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BPS 087: The Essentials of Great Screenwriting with John Truby

Today on the show we have one of the most popular guests to ever be on the Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, the legendary John Truby. John is the author of The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry, and his students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood’s most successful films. The Anatomy of Story shares all his secrets for writing a compelling script. Based on the lessons in his award-winning class, Great Screenwriting, The Anatomy of Story draws on a broad range of philosophy and mythology, offering fresh techniques and insightful anecdotes alongside Truby’s own unique approach to building an effective, multifaceted narrative.

His is former students’ work has earned more than $15 billion at the box office, and include the writers, directors, and producers of such film blockbusters as RatatouilleIn TreatmentPirates of the CaribbeanX-Men I/II/IIIShrekMother Mary of ChrisBreaking BadHouseLostPlanet of the ApesScreamThe Fantastic FourThe NegotiatorStar WarsSleepless in SeattleOutbreakAfrican Cats (which Truby co-wrote for Disney) and more.

Over the last 25 years, more than 50,000 people have attended his sold-out seminars around the world, with the American Film Institute declaring that his “course allows a writer to succeed in the fiercely competitive climate of Hollywood.”

John’s angle on the storytelling process has always fascinated me. This is why we teamed up to bring you his FREE screenwriting webinar call Stories That Sell. The replay is available for about another week for the BPS Tribe. Click here if you want to watch it for FREE.

Get ready to take some notes. Enjoy my EPIC conversation with John Truby.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:53
I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion John Truby. How you doing John?

John Truby 3:18
Good to see Alex great to be back.

Alex Ferrari 3:20
You. You were one of you were actually Episode One of the bulletproof screenwriting podcast A while ago when I first launched this podcast and and it's been one of the most downloaded episodes in the history of the show. And it was fairly epic if I remember it was like night at least 90. Yeah. everyone listening strap in because it's gonna be it's gonna be a while. Now, for people who don't know who you are, john, can you tell everybody a little bit about yourself?

John Truby 3:51
Yeah, I've been teaching story for over 30 years now. Most of the students that I've had I've had over 50,000 students are screenwriters. But my work has been focused toward story in general, meaning it works for novelists, screenwriters, short story, theatre, Video game, every medium there is, is all about telling a great story. And even though there are clearly some major differences between the means. I've found that if you know the techniques of good storytelling, you will be successful in any one of those mediums. So I've been really doing that and also the last over 30 years, working as a story consultant, script consultant, and that's where most of my work has been done. I've done over 1000 scripts on and it's you know, what happens is typically a studio will come to me with a script that needs work. They don't want to spend upwards of 100 to $200 million making in, in marketing it without having a script that's going to be it's going to work. And so they asked me, you know, and then I'm coming in not as a co writer, not as a somebody who is writing dialogue, but somebody who is going to help them get the story, right. And then, and and what a lot of people don't realize is that most scripts that are actually made, have other writers, story consultants that sort of think come on board, because it's just too expensive. Not to get it right. So that's, that's what I've been spending my time doing. And I found that, that trying to understand story is a lifetime commitment. It's, it's that fascinating, and it's that complex. And what I've tried to do is, is, is turn probably the most complex craft in the world into something that's easy to understand and easy to apply. So that a writer can write their own best work. That's what that's really what I'm always about is helping writers write their best.

Alex Ferrari 6:14
What I what I find fascinating from our last interview, and from your book, by the way, which everybody listening, if you have not read anatomy of story, you're doing yourself a disservice. So you have to read this book. It's been out for a while, but boy does it is that is evergreen of a book of I've ever seen. It'll be it'll still be fresh in 100 years is to refresh because stories story, no matter. It's going back to the poetics.

John Truby 6:41
Yeah, that's right.

Alex Ferrari 6:43
So what are what I what one thing that kind of blew my mind when I spoke to you the first time, and I just never thought of it this way. It was like, you know, you always think of the three act structure, you always think of the you know, the beginning, the middle of the end, the hero's journey, all of those kind of things, you know, and in Campbell and that kind of stuff. And you said something that was so, so kind of rocked my world and story, you're like, Well, why don't you throw the hero's journey on a detective story. Let me see how that works out for you. And I was just, I just my mind exploded because it was like, it just blew the doors off the concept that every single story is exactly the same, which it's not. So can you kind of delve a little bit into that.

John Truby 7:27
Yeah, it what you put your finger on is my opinion, the biggest problem that writers face screenwriters. They have these these two basic models for how they think you're supposed to write the script and tell the story. One is hero's journey, the other three x structure. And the problem is that they're highly limited. They're basically for elementary level writing, they're there for beginners, and they simply don't work at the professional level. The reason they don't work at the professional level is different depending on which ones you're going to use. When it comes to hero's journey. The problem with hero's journey is that the beats that are listed there, those are the Joseph Campbell beats, those are valid beats. But those are the beats of a myth. Story. Myth is one of the major genres. I do classes in all the major genres. Myth is one of them. But there's another 12 or 13 major genres, that all worldwide storytelling is based on. Either one of those genres, or more more typically a mix a combination of those. Well, Campbell laid out very effectively the beats of the myth form, which is probably the oldest story form. The problem is, in in the modern day, we're not just writing myths, stories. And And specifically, Another criticism of Joseph Campbell beats is that they're actually not just a myth story, they are the male warrior myth story. For example, they don't have anything to do with a female myth, which is a massive story form in the myth area. So the problem is, that's why I mentioned before, you know, if you're going to write a detective stories is a relatively modern form, you're going to be in big trouble. You're going to write yourself into a hole really fast. Love Story, Crime Story. fantasy, fantasy has certain connections to myths, so you won't be as big trouble if you do it with fantasy. But even there, the story structure of myth and fantasy are fundamentally different. They're different beasts. And so if you're using a structure for myth to write a fantasy is going to take you down the wrong track. Now when it comes to three act structure, that's it. bigger problem, because three out of structure it at least with with hero's journey, those beats are valid. Those actually will tell a good story in the military. But three structure is is nothing. There's nothing in it. It's simply a way to break a story into three sections. Because it appears to make it more manageable. But really all it does is give you guideposts when you say so I'm in the first act? Well, you're in the beginning. And if I'm in the second act, I'm in the middle, you know, all it is, is fancy words apply to beginning, middle and end. And what I've always contended is it doesn't do anything for you in terms of creating a story triac was really invented by a story analyst looking at a script after had been written to try to see if he could figure out what was happening at each step of the process.

Alex Ferrari 11:00
Reverse Engineering reverse engineer. Yeah,

John Truby 11:01
exactly. And, and unfortunately, in my opinion, this caught on and it became kind of the, you know, the the mantra that people would use, and I believe that it has caused more problems. It has killed more writers writing careers than any other single element in story. And that's why that's why I've been so you know, adamant about over the over 30 years that I've been teaching story, that it's fine to start with it. That's great, because when you first starting, you don't know what you're doing it, it gives you a little confidence, it gives you a sense of well, let's let's I can at least divide this these events are going to happen in the first act, this lot generally happen in the second act, and this will happen in the third as well, that's helpful. But what I always then say is, now you got to move beyond that. Because the professional storytelling, especially in screenwriting, is so much more advanced than that if you're relying on that, and and you think that you have now learned how to structure a story, you're dead, you're absolutely dead.

Alex Ferrari 12:21
There's, there's I've had the privilege of interviewing a lot of big time, very successful screenwriters on the show. And I've talked to them sometimes on air sometimes off but from what I hear is like, I love talking about the hero's journey, and all this kind of stuff with them sometimes, and they say, a couple of these, these are billion dollar account billion dollar screenwriters, because they've worked on some very big shows. And they go Look, man, you can, after the fact you can slap anything onto a story structures concern, I can make it look like a hero's journey, I can throw five acts on it, I can throw four acts on it, I could throw six acts on it, I can, it's just kind of like you're trying to just, it's not what started the process. But you can slap whatever show you want on it after the fact. And the problem is that a lot of screenwriters think that that is the only way and like you're saying early on, it makes a lot of sense. But when you start getting into some more advanced storytelling, more advanced screenwriting, your it's not just the simple three act structure, even though you can apply that onto it,

John Truby 13:30
right, like you can do what I what I always tell people is that, you know, they say, well, well, john, you know, I applied it to my script, or I applied it to Raiders, the Lost Ark, or this movie or that movie, and it was it was there. And I say exactly what you just said, which is you can divide anything into three parts, or four parts, or seven parts or 10 parts, you know, it's you take in a pie, and you're just making more slices. That doesn't mean that it's going to give you any techniques or tools to create the pie in the first place. And that's the big distinction that people have so much trouble with, and so hard to get them to go beyond that, in order to really become a craftsperson at the highest level, and that's again, what we're all talking about. What we should be talking about is how do you write at the level that can get cheap, professional work. And that means you got to be really, really good at all of these skills of story, including character, structure, plot, the symbol and so on and so forth. That three act doesn't even touch.

Alex Ferrari 14:41
It's it's fascinating because, you know, I love the pie technique, because it's like it's literally a pie and you I could look at the pie and I could say what the pie was made of, but I didn't bake the pie. You need to know half the baker did what the baker does which is is remarkable. So, going going back a little bit, when you're seeing screenwriters is that the biggest mistake you see screenwriters make is is applying this this three act structure? because like you said, Raiders of the Lost Ark to my understanding? And please correct me if I'm wrong, the Raiders of the Lost Ark? is a five act show or is it? Or is it not, you could you could cut up,

John Truby 15:24
you cut it up at the three point it's totally arbitrary you are you're adding an outside division to the process. What I talk about the anatomy story is a story process that is organic, which simply means I'm going to track a main character working through a plot to get a goal. And therefore what what is actually sequencing that story is the development of that character as they go from first wanting the goal to either accomplishing or failing to get the goal. And what is the internal change that that person goes through, as they go through the process, the external process of a plot. And that that means that every story that you write is going to be unique, because it's going to be based on you your unique main character, and nobody else has that character. And how you take that character how you make them change. And so that's whereas with with react, we've just taken any old story and said, Okay, we're gonna divide it at this point. And at this point, and now we've got three acts has nothing to do with the main character, it has nothing to do with the more complex plot sequence. Now to get to your question, this problem with three act, it is the biggest problem that people have only because it prevents them from understanding how to solve the real problem. And the real problem is that, and I based this on years of experience and 1000s of writers, the real problem that writers have in terms of working professional, is they don't how to construct a plot. plot is the game, because we're talking about popular storytelling, and what drives popular storytelling and every medium cluding screenwriter is the ability to come up with a surprising plot that people have not seen before. Now think about how hard that is, especially when you have people doing things like hero's journey, so on, which are hitting the same beats every single time. How are you going to come up with something that they haven't seen before? In fact, that's the biggest problem other with three X, excuse me with the hero's journey, I mentioned that it only applies to myth. But the other problem is that we've seen it so many times that everybody knows what's going to happen. It's boring. All right. So it comes down to this, this problem with plot and, and and why we say anybody who's been writing for any length of time, knows the importance of a strong main character. Okay, so they they study, they work hard to try to come up with and understand how how you create a good bancaire. They know the importance of good dialogue. Okay, which you do at the end of the process. And where the root of the problem is that when they think about Okay, now it comes time for me to create the plot? Well, they don't know how to do that. And there's no book that tells them, they think that tells them how to do that. And so they think, well, I'll just figure it out as I go. And guess what doesn't work. That way, you are not going to figure it out as you go, what is going to happen 99% of the time is that you start down this path of the plot, you're going to get about 15 or 20 pages in, you're going to run yourself into a dead end, and you're going to stop, you're going to run into writer's block, and you're going to think it will this is something on a psychological problem. No, it's not a problem to psychology, it's a problem with your plot. You don't know what the story is going to do here. And because you didn't think of it from the beginning as an entire plot sequence, you're not gonna be able to get out of this problem. And so what I'm what I've been really pushing last few years, all the work, the new work that I've been doing is all about how do you create plot? How do you explain to people how to create plot because it's very complicated. And especially how do you create plot that gives your story maximum narrative drive, because that's what the studio studios want to do is care about three things. Three things when they get your script, narrowed, drive, narrative drive and narrow Right. That's it, because that's what sells to a worldwide audience. Right? That something like Raiders of the Lost Ark, what does it have? It has fantastic narrative drive. It also has a great character. It has some fun scenes, some fun dialogue, there's some great fantasy in there, and so on and so forth. But what's really making that thing work is fantastic narrative drive. That is the definition of popular storytelling. And so that's where I've been doing all my work and trying to get writers to focus on to understand, if you want to succeed at the highest levels, you've got to become a master of plot, you'll get the character, you'll get the dialogue, if you write a good plot with a strong main character, the dialogue practically writes itself. People don't think I'm crazy when I say that, but it's absolutely true. Because then you're not asking the dialogue to do what it can't do. You're not asking the dialogue to structure the story, which a lot of people do. So that's why that's why I pushed so hard on this, on creating plot, learning how to create plot, especially plot with intense narrative drive. And that by the way, you know, we're going to talk later about this story rescue worksheet that I have for people. That's what that's all about, too, which is these are techniques to give you maximum narrative drive in your script.

Alex Ferrari 21:26
Now, I was reading a book, The Stephen King book on writing, which is a fantastic book. And he said something and always stuck with me was really and I wanted to hear your thoughts on this is that he's like, if you you have to have the basics of grasp of the English language. So he goes, you have to understand this, this and this and has to be instinctual, not because like when I'm writing, because I've been writing for, you know, you know, a long time as it throughout my life, just as not even in creative just generally, you have a kind of taste for what English is supposed to sound like, and how it's supposed to be written and basic grammar and these, these are things he goes, You need to understand this instinctually if you're thinking about it too heavily, you need to go back to the drawing board. And I feel that with Master storytellers, a lot of this is just instinctual because they've done it so many times, like a master craftsman like a master carpenter, like a master painter. There's certain strokes that they've done 10,000 times. And if you try to, to verbalize it, it's almost impossible to verbalize it.

John Truby 22:38
I find that is almost always the case with really the top writers. They're very bad at verbalizing how they got there. Right. What I would say to a Stephen King or anyone else like that is, yeah, you're absolutely right. Once you get to that position where you're writing at that level, you but that's you, you don't need to analyze it too much, because you've already got it as part of your second and third nature. It's already embedded in how you think what they never talk about is, well, gee, Steven added you did you have this kind of ability when you were six years old? And first going to school? No, you did. You know, it's by the, by the time you've gotten through all your education, and you've written all these books, and you've made some mistakes, and you obviously have have done extremely well, at the same time. That entire process is a process of improving and increasing the craft. Now, he may not be one who likes to verbalize it or analyze it. That's great, that's fine. But what I would say to anybody else who is not currently writing at the level of Stephen King, which is that many By the way,you don't have that luxury, right, you do not have that luxury. And that's why when you know, the anatomy story book, and the recent work I've been doing on plot, it's all about trying to give people techniques, specific, applicable techniques that you can apply to your story right now. And in doing that, you're going to master that technique. So that down the road a few years, when your level of ability has gone way up, then you don't have to think what was the What was the name of that technique

Alex Ferrari 24:35
that I use there? It's in there. Exactly. But it's the same thing as you know, and I hate to use baseball analogies, but I actually love using baseball analogies where you might have a natural swing and maybe when you're you know 15 1617 you have a natural swing but when you start getting you know that that natural swings, not going to get you into the majors for you to be anybody of any magnitude. So slowly but surely. As you take more swings, you start getting coached, you start, you know, you start getting coached on technique here, because now you pick up a thing there there. And then because you've been at the plate so many times, it becomes second nature, you don't even think about it, you don't analyze it. But as you're going up, you're analyzing that swing, you're watching it, you're really taking notice.

John Truby 25:21
But at a certain point, you're getting feedback from that batting coach, who is saying, Hey, I noticed there's a little switch in your swing that you didn't have two weeks ago, right? We haven't been hitting since then. And because you need that outside eye to say, look, that natural process, quote, natural process, which is actually made up of multiple smaller techniques, somehow got out of kilter. And we got to identify that and fix it, so you can get back to the natural swing.

Alex Ferrari 25:52
So you're basically like a story chiropractor, chiropractor, he got it. He got to adjust the spine to get I

John Truby 26:01
get that spine structure working. But I use this similar I use a similar analogy with with basketball. I mean, if if I wasn't writing and in teaching writing, I would like to be a point guard in the NBA, that that would be my second choice, sir. Now, and you know, and I always, in this comes up, when when people say to me, you know, john, I don't need to read any of these books, all I need to do is what you know, all you have to do to write successfully is to write well, there's a certain truth to that, right. If you don't write anything, you're not going to write successfully, because you haven't written anything, right? But the thing that all you have to do is write, in order to write at the professional level is nonsense. It's a similar thing of saying, you know, I would like to play point guard in the NBA, all I have to do is play basketball, right? Now, there's a lot of time on the playground, I get a lot of time playing basketball, but I'm not going to get close to the NBA. Because a I don't have the natural ability. But much more importantly, I have not been getting extensive high level coaching. Since the age I picked up the ball. You know, you take a guy like Michael Jordan, or for for younger people than myself,

Alex Ferrari 27:31
LeBron James, right.

John Truby 27:33
But the guy is a fantastic natural talent. Sure, but the guy has been getting coaching to refine that talent for his entire life

Alex Ferrari 27:45
and practicing and adjusting and going. And

John Truby 27:48
what happens is we look at him at when he plays just as we look at a Stephen King book, and we see the polished product, we don't see the techniques, the hundreds of techniques sitting under the surface that makes it look like he's just taken a walk in the park. Right? It's a lot more complicated than that. And to get to that level, or to attempt to get to that level, you got to learn those techniques.

Alex Ferrari 28:17
Right? And it's the same thing with like, film directing, like, you know, you look at the masters, and you just go oh, my God, like you look at a Kubrick film. And there's just so much density in his technique. And he literally would wait five, seven years prepping a film. So he had everything really, or Hitchcock or these kind of guys. But there is so much work that goes into that that makes it the easier it looks the harder it was to get there. Yeah. Many many ways. Absolutely. Now you I'm sure you're asked by screenwriters yet you're asked questions all the time, from screenwriters. How do we get better how to do this? What are some of the best questions you get asked by screenwriters?

John Truby 28:58
Well, let me first start off by saying the wrong questions.

Alex Ferrari 29:04
I was gonna say that was my next question. You ruined it, john. We'll start off with the worst, then we'll go to the best Sure.

John Truby 29:12
Yeah. But the worst is See, it's it's has to do with the underlying problem. Most writers think that the reason they have not yet reached success is because they don't know the right people. This is a business of connections. How many times have we heard that? And so when I would give a talk, or teach a class, the inevitable question is, how do I sell my script? How do I get an agent? How do I meet producers who will buy material and so on? And it's not about how do I write better? It's how do I sell and clearly these are concerns week, we want to sell our work. But I consider that the, by far the biggest misconception that writers have about why they do not succeed. And I believe that in order to succeed, you got to know what the problem is first. The problem is not that you're not connected, I find that 99.9% of writers, when they finally meet a connection, who can really do them some good. They don't have the material to give to them. But by by the material, I mean, I don't mean they don't have a script, they got a script. It's not good enough. It's not good enough. But they don't want to say that to me. They don't want to say, hey, john, you know, I don't think I'm a good writer yet. And I don't want to say it to them. But that's the that's the probable fact, is what you need to be knowing what you what you need to be asking is, technically what is wrong with my story? Why is this story not working? Because the only thing that sells his story? So, you know, when it when it comes time to the best question, it really, it tends to be focused on the if the writer understands that the real structural elements under the surface that are making all the difference, and do it. So those are that they understand the desire line. And so they'll ask me is my desire line working, because the desire is the spine of the story. If they asked me a question like that, I know this person has a shot to write a really good script, because everything's going to hang on that spot. And then if they ask me something like, the conflict is not working. I don't know why. That tells me also, that they're on the right track, because after desire and spine is opposition and conflict. You can't figure out the opposition until you get the goal. This is a big mistake that a lot of writers make, you know, they think they might think in terms of conflict first, and there's no goal to hang it on. There's nothing to fight about. You can't have people fight, unless they're fighting over a goal. And that is a goal that both the hero and the main opponent should have. So when I hear people talk about these, the structural underpinnings of a good story, then I know that they're focused in the right area. And they may not fix the problem right now. But they're going to get, because if you stay focused on those kind of structural things, I always say, you get the seven steps, right, it's really hard to screw it up. And by the seven steps, I'm gonna put the seven major structure steps in any good story, you get those, right, you've got the DNA of the story, you've got the basic fabric and, and, and structure spine of that story. And then the rest of it is adding on the special details, the twists and turns and so on. But if you've got the strong spine, if if your opposition set up and conflict is correct, it's going to make that part of it so much easier.

Alex Ferrari 33:20
Now, everyone's always looking at blockbusters of how to write this, you know how to make money with their scripts and all this stuff. And, and what makes a blockbuster blockbuster. So I'll ask you the question, what are some key elements to a successful popular film, even though both you and I know and I'll speak for you and please correct me if I'm wrong, that the chances of a screenwriter who's starting out writing 150 to $200 million script that gets picked up by a studio is 0.0000%. But But I think that even if you're able to write something of that magnitude, it might be a good Friday example, or might get him an agent or might get them and God knows it might get produced or picked up or something. But what are those key elements? And do you agree with that? And what are the key elements?

John Truby 34:06
I do agree with that. The your idea, when you're writing that script is not to sell that it's highly unlikely that it's going to happen if it happens, fantastic. But what you're trying to do is show that you're a professional, right? That that you are at the level that you can be hired, because that's where all the work is not in spec scripts. It's getting hired because because you're a professional and you they know you're going to do the job and think about it. You got you got all this money that you have to spend on a lighter, you're going to want to be damn certain that this person is going to predict in this very esoteric world of writing and creating a new story that they're going to be able to come in with a great a great script every time including the time when they spit when I give my money. So absolutely. That's correct. The it's funny that you asked this question because I always ask question to students. When I teach my anatomy of story class, I say, Why do you think? What do you think is causes a blockbuster? Why is there a blockbuster? And, and I usually do it in terms of, you know, American movies, by far make the most money in the world. So I always do it in terms of like, maybe teach in Berlin or Paris or whatever, say, Why do American movies make so much money? And they always have the same two answers. And it's so hilarious. The first answer they give is, you have all the movie stars. And, and I, okay, yes, true. But Hollywood has not been a movie star based business for at least 20 years, right? At least 20 years. And the only people who don't know that still may be a few movie stars left that are not getting paid what they think they deserve. But, but but other than that, you know, it's not a movie star business. The other then they give the answer. Well, you spend all this money on special effects. Right? And we'll end with yes, we do all those all those Marvel movies, our money on special effects. But But then I point out, there's just hundreds 1000s of movies that spent a lot of money on special effects, and there were bombs at the box off

Alex Ferrari 36:26
and movie stars and movie stars?

John Truby 36:29
Absolutely. So neither of those has to do is their way down the list. In terms of why something a blockbuster? And the answer, and it won't be surprising hearing it for me. But it is true. I fervently believe it. The reason that a movie as a blockbuster is embedded right in script. And it has to do with those key structural elements I was just talking about the first of it, first of them being a desire line, a strong clear desire line that extends through the entire length of the script, that the hero chases after with intense speed and energy, and will do anything to get it. Because what that does is it provides narrative drive, which does not depend on particular culture. Everybody knows, I see a character with a goal. I like the character, I want him to get the goal. Therefore, if I can see him, blast through all these opponents trying to stop him, especially if he is starts off as an underdog and then gets the goal fantastic world over. No matter what the language no matter what the culture, they want to see that. So that's what you start off with you start off with this strong spine. And and and I talked about this in the story rescue worksheet, which is it's got to be a gold with a clear end point. We have to know specifically at the end of the story, did they hero get it or fail? Now, obviously, most of the time they get it and usually if you want a blockbuster, it's a good idea for them to succeed in the goal. But interestingly enough, it's not necessary. That that he has that goal. And then it goes after it with intense speed and energy that makes all the difference. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 38:30
Raiders Raiders, he didn't get the goal. Right. Right. He lost the Ark of the Covenant. It's got rights in the in the warehouse somewhere.

John Truby 38:38
That's right. Exactly right. And and so it but it's it's the right, and what the desire line is what provides the ride and Hollywood blockbuster movies or thrill rides. And the question is structurally How do you get that? Well, the first and most necessary is you've got to have that strong desire line by a single hero. Now, once you do that, know that you see in blockbuster story is the opposition setup. You have to have one main opponent who is present and attacking for the entire store. You hear that? You said Well, obviously you know what when I watch all my movies, there's always that opponent there. Well, yeah, what you're not saying are all the scripts where the opponent where they're either isn't a main opponent, or isn't a main opponent who's there for a while and then you know, he disappears for a while and no, it's got to be one main opponent attacking the hero relentlessly. And then that's that's that's the tip of the iceberg because then you have to have a support group of opponents, preferably hidden under the surface. So we don't see how these opponents are connected. They are connected. They're not always in the most popular and typically the best stories. The opposition is connected to each other in some way, but it's a hidden hierarchy. So this is another key because what does that do? It gives you ongoing conflict, each of these things, the conflict never stops. And it's also what allows you to build the conflict. You know, people when they talk these three act structure, people say, Oh, I'm having, if you notice, they always have second act problems. Wasn't first act problems, not third act problems, it's second eye problems. Okay, there's 99% of scripts go bad in the middle, because the writer using three x structure doesn't know what to do with the story. Well, what's supposed to happen is that in this conflict between the hero and the opposition over the goal, you normally get conflict, you build conflict. And in less, you set up this up this opposition in a connected way, where each opponent wants to defeat the hero for a different reason. And using a different technique, then you can create what I call this Gatling gun approach to the old Gatling gun machine gun type of thing. Instead of instead of, okay, the hero's taking action steps to reach the goal 10 minutes later, on apart the main opponent attacks, and then he goes another 10 minutes. And then the main opponent attacks again, know, if you've got this hierarchy of opposition, main opponent attacks, second opponent attacks, third opponent attacks back to the main upon then the second part, bam, bam, bam, bam. So what you're getting is what I call the key to the middle, which is punch, Counter Punch. That's the key to the middle of the story, you really what you're trying to set up as a heavyweight fight between two equally match opponents, and they are pounding the shit out of each other. And that's what until you get to the very end with the battle, which is the biggest conflict of all. And one of them probably the hero is going to win. And the story I leave the theater, I feel fantastic. I tell them what's wrong.

Alex Ferrari 42:26
And this is why the whole end game you know, Avengers endgame was such a monster hit. But what they did was they built it up over a decade of stories that built up those characters. And it was just something that no one's ever done in Hollywood, to the point where at the end, and spoiler alert, if you guys haven't seen this, but at the end when I mean, if you haven't, it's not my fault, guys. But at the end when Iron Man finally does that, that snap, and and that's a perfect example, like Thanos is such a amazing villain, because he's an unmovable object. I mean, and I love the way they set it up in infinity, Infinity War, which is the first part of that in the very, very beginning. They throw the Hulk Adam and we all know the Hulk is the most powerful thing we've seen, nobody can beat. No one could be and he wipes the floor with the Hulk in five minutes, and you're like, Oh, this guy and but that's just such wonderful writing and so beautifully within that one minute you knew this is someone not to be trifled with if the Hulk just got his ass handed to them. And then it's just this constant beating that he did. I mean, that was just beats on the Avengers beats on and beats on them to finally at the end, it takes everybody to finally to finally beat them. I was watching a movie the other day because you know we're in the middle of COVID so you start we recycling old movie Jen seen in like a decade or two. And I was watching boar at and I hadn't seen Bora in at least 15 years. And it's still funny. It's still funny to this day. But when you were talking about desire even as a silly of a film that's that is he has this desire that holds through the entire movie is he wants to go and meet Pamela Anderson and marry her. It that drives the whole story without that it's just a dude Miranda ring around the country. It's a perfect example of no matter what you do, you have to have a clear desire endpoint, even if it is fakie is that

it's something that drives the story.

John Truby 44:35
But so what you know because it's it's what and this by the way, is an especially difficult problem that comedy writers have. They again they dealing with certain misconceptions that are killing and the big misconception copywriters have they think it's you pack as many jokes in the story as you can. Okay, that is disaster right there. Because what happens is, within our realize is that a joke stops before momentum of the store, because we are stopping everybody stopping to watch somebody fall.

Alex Ferrari 45:11
Yeah, on a banana peel, rock.

John Truby 45:13
And then we laugh that, Okay, that was great. I really enjoyed that. Okay, you string too many of those together, it's beginning without setting up a storyline, a desire line that you hang everything on. And all of a sudden, again, you tend to 15 minutes in, you hit the dead end wall, because there is no for story momentum, there's no narrative drive, the narrative drive is just as important if not more important, in a comedy, as it is in something like Avengers, which, which at least has the benefit of all this big violent conflict that can that you know, dazzle right to keep keep you dazzled. But in comedy know, you've got to hang those jokes on a storyline. And that is provided by the clear goal that the hero is only going to get to at the very end.

Alex Ferrari 46:05
And and it's silly, and for everyone listening who writes comedy, I mean, even it's silly of movies like airplane, and Dumb and Dumber, who are classics and comedy. Dumb and Dumber. They're trying to get the suitcase back to the girl who has fallen in love with, you know, from a distance. That's the driving factor airplane, we got to land this and survive, we got to land the plane and survive. That's the but it's very there. They're not really grand plots here. It's very simple. But the point is it's a comedy we need something to to hang the joke's on that and give an excuse to go where we're gonna go with it. So an airplane is obvious and but Dumb and Dumber. They're going across country and and they keep all these jokes happen along the way, but it's being driven by something because if if there wasn't, then there'd be no plot. It's just be two guys doing stupid stuff. It's Beavis and Butthead, essentially.

John Truby 46:59
Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 47:01
Which is, now I wanted to talk to you about it, because we didn't touch this last time. And, and I wanted to hear your thoughts about it. theme. theme is such an important part. And I feel it's something that a lot of screenwriters just don't even think about. It's like an afterthought about the theme of what are you trying to say with the story? What's the underlining, you know, your arc for the character for the story? Like, what are you trying to say? Can you talk a little bit about theme and how you how it, you know, you you think about it? Sure.

John Truby 47:35
So this is getting a little freaky, because the the thing that I've most been working on with the new book that I'm writing, it is theme is, that is what, you know, I talked just before about the fact that the big problem that separates the top professions from everybody else is the ability to plot. But we got to take that even a step further. The real problem that even some of the the top professions have is that they don't know how to express the theme through the complex plot. That's where you get the double punch. Now plot just plot on its own is great. And that's the essence of popular storytelling. But if you've got if you can also express a powerful theme through the plot, so it's not heavy handed. The audience does not know that they're getting this life affirming this appraising theme in the story. And because if they think that's what they're going to get, they're going to shut down right away. But if if you get it past their defenses, which you do with the plot, it's just it takes what what, however poppier that story is, and it magnifies it least double and probably more. Now, let me give you an example. Example I love to use is, is the Dark Knight, in my opinion, the greatest superhero movie ever made. And I would challenge anybody to come up with one that's better. I don't just mean that's fun. I don't just mean the only one,

Alex Ferrari 49:27
the only one that I can think of, if you will, because you've thrown the challenge down, john. So I have to say, Logan, is probably in the top five with Dark Knight. I do agree with you that Dark Knight is yes. And for the same reason, for the same reason, because it's a superhero movie with theme, with a lot of themes, a lot of theme, but it's done beautifully. It's done beautifully, truly through the plot of the story. But for me, the reason that dark night is even greater is I think the The main characters more complex, Batman is a more complex character. In fact, I think he's the most complex superhero there that's ever been written. And that goes all the way back to the original comics. But it's also the ambition of the theme in The Dark Knight is greater than and low. In The Dark Knight, he really questions the whole concept of the superhero. Because the super superhero is essentially the religion of it is a religion, it is the superhero religion, it is the idea of that superheroes can save us. Now, what the Dark Knight then does thematic is says, Is that really a good idea? Isn't it better? Instead of putting all of our faith in some superhero or outside force? That is going to come in and save the day for us? Wouldn't it be better if we all decided we're going to get in and solve the problem ourselves and working together? And what he does is he sets it up with this great character. comparison. Have you got the Dark Knight? You got the white knight? Who's the prosecutor usually starts off with the white knight. And then you got the Joker who is at the other extreme he is he has darkness persona flaw is our narky. Right.

John Truby 51:25
Right, exactly. And so and what they what will the entire plot then is set up to express the theme of is it good for us to have a Savior? And the way they do it is the plot is totally driven by the Joker. And the plot is quite brilliant. In fact, if anything, there's too much plot, there's it de Nolan's are the only people in the world that I would say they wait too much. That's not a problem, right? Can't have too much plot. But, but what they do is they The plot is driven by the Joker, and it's really a sequence of challenges. They become more and more complex that the Joker gives to Batman to solve. And what they by complex, I mean, morally complex, they put Batman in a more and more difficult comp, moral position. So for example, we're going to say you're going to save your girlfriend, and you're going to save the white knight, the prosecutor, until they end with the biggest moral challenge of all, where he does the classic Prisoner's Dilemma with the two ships, you know, right? You blow or do you blow them up, because you think they're gonna blow you up? And so it's really on so many levels. It's brilliant. But my point is, it's because that the plot is in service to this larger theme that it had the kind not just is why it's so great. It's why it's so popular. And this is what always surprises people. People think that theme is theme versus popularity. No. It's only theme versus popularity, if you don't know how to express the light. If you do if you express themes through the dialogue, by preaching and saying, okay, here's what you need to learn from our money. No, that's not going to work and people are going to avoid it like crazy. But if you express that plot, like the dark mind, where you're doing it through the characters, the character opposition and the plot sequence, then the audience just goes away thinking that's just the greatest thing I've ever seen. That's That's why you know, I mean, this question about theme is in the primary plot is people just don't have to do it. They don't do it. Because there's so many techniques involve theme. The problem is, they don't know how important it is.

Alex Ferrari 54:07
Now, I want to ask you this because I'm fascinated by the movie Avatar. Now avatar, up until recently, and still arguably with with, you know, with the inflation is the biggest movie of all time. It has a very strong, some say overbearing theme. Actually a bunch of themes layered on top of each other. What made that film so because it's so popular, because yes, there was 3d and there was amazing visual effects. But we've seen amazing visual effects before and they movies have died. And that what is it about that film that caught the tension or the the fantasy of of the pop of the world at such a level that it took you a decade, almost four films Even an Avengers endgame barely creeped over 10 years later. You know, Disney, like pushed it out one more time to get the extra two or 3 million and needed to just say were the biggest movie of all time, even though you know, it wasn't. But So how? What's your what's your take on that film?

John Truby 55:18
Well, again, as you asked me this question right at this time, because I think avatar is such an important film. And it is often so misunderstood. I did an entire class on like an hour and a half class just on the techniques of avatar, and why it works. And so, you know, I'm not gonna take up all the time,

Alex Ferrari 55:42
though, I'm sure I'm sure the audience would be fascinated. Maybe we can do another episode just on avatar, but

John Truby 55:48
because I I can do it very easily. Having done it all right. But the avatar, James Cameron is, in my opinion, the best popular storyteller in film, popular storytelling. And to a lot of people, that's kind of that's kind of thing praise. That's, that's, you know, oh, yeah, he's, you know, nobody's going to criticize him for writing a great film. Or say that he wrote a great film. But those people would be quite wrong. Because that those talents, those skills are very complicated. They're very advanced. And he knows exactly what he's doing, beginning with how he combines his young. This guy is the ultimate genre Movie Maker. And he always combines the same three, which are myth, action, and loves store. And that combination, that combination genres, it doesn't get more popular than that.

Alex Ferrari 56:58
I'm going back down to his filmography, and I'm going, yep, that's there. Yep, that's there. Yeah, yeah. Even Terminator, from terminator terminator to the abyss. True Lies, Titanic, I mean, other than Parana, too, but we don't count them.

John Truby 57:12
And it's important to start with the genres because the genres of the story forms, and in almost all my work over the last 30 years has been really focused on jobs. How do each of the genres work? What are the genre beats for each form? And then how do you mix them? Because almost nothing now is a single genre. And it hasn't been for at least 20 years, probably more like 30. And what brought it on was Star Wars, Star Wars was the first really film to really mix multiple genres. And you see in the difference from, from jaws to Star Wars, I think jaws was came out in 7675,

Alex Ferrari 57:52
jaws and 76. And then seven Star Wars right after,

John Truby 57:55
right? You have everything before Star Wars, everything after Star Wars. jaws is a single genre, story, source, right? Star Wars has multiple genres. And once that came out, and people saw the studio saw how popular multiple genres were for a worldwide audience, it's been that way ever since. So and we were talking earlier about blockbuster. I mentioned, first of all, desire, and then the opposition setup. Third one is mixing genres, multiple genres. And in that data rescue worksheet, I have a place where people can tell me at least, at least two and preferably three genres that are going to make up your story. Because what you're doing with the audience is you're saying, I'm going to sell you two for the price of one, I'm going to say you three for the price of one. And story in store returns, what it does is, whatever beats you have for one genre, now you add a second, you add a third, you're getting incredible density of story beats. And what does that translate? plot? It's giving you great plot, it's giving you narrative drive, all these things we talked about earlier,

Alex Ferrari 59:14
because of you. So if you have a love story, that's a certain amount of beats that have to happen in that if you have an action, there's a certain amount of beats that happen after that if there's myth, there's a certain amount of beats. So just by the nature of combining genre, you're just automatically have to have a more complex plot, purely because you're not just doing Romeo Juliet.

John Truby 59:36
Exactly. Exactly. And the one of the nice things about it is is if you know the beats, because you got to know the beats, but if you know the beats is practically doing the job for you, because if you got to hit all of those beats, of course, the trick is going to be how am I going to combine them? How am I going to mix that? How am I going to sequence them and that's easier said than done. But once you do, then you've got a fantastic Have a plot from beginning to end, and you're not going to have that middle that collapses, because you don't know what the main character is supposed to do, then you're going to have to be doing great stuff, every five minutes, you're going to have a major beat happening. So that's the first thing that that you get an avatar, and all the beats for each of those genres is there. You're also getting this very powerful thing. And yes, in certain ways, that is definitely overdone. It's it's heavy handed. But there's enough in the theme that is part of the story structure, that the stuff that's heavy handed, you can kind of, you know, overlook, and you're still getting moved by it. Because you're still what is the basic story? It's the basic story, it's it, it's a battle between a tech society and a nature society. And you're saying, what a tech society gone, you know, without limits, and what it does to nature. And it's a horrible thing to see.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:09
But if you look, but if you look at avatar, I mean, there's probably more than just three, I mean, you're talking about machine versus man, man versus nature or machine versus nature, as well. That's another kind of kind of storyline in that as well. And there's probably a few other layers in there that we can't even see

John Truby 1:01:27
it with it. But those are definite, important lines and elements, those are not actually in this may just be a semantic difference I would not put those are not genres, personal makes a man versus machine or nature versus man, those kind of like types of themes. There's a major thing. However, one of the things I've talked about in the avatar class is that one of the reasons it was so popular is because it it used to what I call to new myth forms. Because what almost all writers in Hollywood have done for the last 50 years, is when they were doing a myth based story. They went back and borrowed from the ancient Greek myths, and they just updated. And that's great stuff, because those are great stories. But what what, what Cameron did was, he took two new myth forms that nobody was playing with. And he made that the basis of this story. And what are those two myths forms? One is ecological myth. And the other is which, which takes in tech versus nature? And how do you balance those out? Obviously, we don't have a balance initially, and it has to be reapply. But the other is a female myth. Because what what happens in this story, on the surface, it's what we have a conflict between a tech culture and a nature culture. But what's really going on under the surface in story terms, is you're getting mail merge mail myth versus female myth, all that military stuff, that that comes in all those guys, those are the Joseph Campbell male myth beats. But what he's doing then is he's putting them into conflict with the femaleness beats, which nobody else has done, nobody else is playing with. Except in the last few years, we've had a few movies that have gotten into the female myth like inside out, like gravity, and their massive hits. And I've always, I always tell my students, you know, if you want to have a good chance of writing a hit film in the next 10 to 20 years, write a female men modernize, modernize that female myth, and it's, it's, you know, half the population. And yet the stories that are about their journey have not been told for 3000 years ever since the you know, male cultures took over from female cultures. So you know, not to get too esoteric here but but that's the kind of thing that's going on in avatar that when we watch it is just really fun story in this you know, these great world and, and the great special effects and so on likable characters, but what's going on under the surface structurally is massive and very revolutionary. And it easily overcomes the obvious, quote mistakes that are made like you know, what is the desire line they want to they want to mining for obtaining, they want to obtain obtaining That's a bit on the nose. It's a bit of a classic MacGuffin. I don't know what it is. But the point is, who cares? It doesn't. It's such a minor mistake, if you will, that the fact he's doing all this other stuff so well and really, so far beyond anybody else working today is is is what is what gives him those kinds of those kinds of numbers that the box hawks didn't ask. Well, he'd only miserably but he did the same thing with Titanic, like Titanic had no reason, at all, rather be a movie to anybody wanted to watch. Yeah, it's like we all know the ending, right? We all know the story.

One of the one of the worst calls I've ever made Alex, one of the worst calls, I heard this was coming out. I said, Oh, what a disaster. This is gonna be a bomb in the fox. I know what's gonna happen $200million? Is he insane? It's crazy. It's crazy. And but what did he do? What did he do? He took a disaster pictures structure, right, which is a kind of action, myth based story. And he added a love story. And what that meant was see the reason that disaster pictures, typically, they'll have a certain audience, but they're not that big, is because it's really a cross cut of various people as they're being destroyed by whatever the disaster, right, right, but we haven't gotten to know any of them well enough to care. And so what does he do? He says, the disaster for the very end of the picture. And the whole three quarters of the movie is the love story about two people who we now really, really care about. And he adds that at the end on to everybody else getting killed. And then we've got a massive Oh, you know, don't forget,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:56
don't forget Now you also have the anticipation of the entire Odyssey Odyssey Odyssey audience knowing what is going to happen, which is a very rare thing, because it's just a story that the entire world knows about. So we all like oh my god, we'd love jack and rosewood, but the ship's gonna sink are they gonna make? So that is an additional layer on top of it as well. I mean, I agree with you. I've been every time James Cameron comes out with someone It was like I go in James I trust like I, I might not understand it. When he's doing it. Like I don't think these next like it's on paper for more avatars, or five more avatars that he's making? are arguably 10 years after the first one like, does it you know, people like does anyone care? It's even relevant. I'm like, in James, I trust I, whatever he's doing.

John Truby 1:07:46
Let me put it this way. Let me put this way. I have a lot more trust in Him being able to extend the avatar series. Sure. In the Star War people have extending their series.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:57
Fair, fair enough. And also, you know, that just like a lot of popular filmmakers and storytellers in general, from Spielberg, to Hitchcock, to King, even Stephen King, they aren't given the respect that they're there. Do you know when Spielberg was hitting, you know, home run after home run in the late 70s, early 80s. He was just like, I mean, he there was just a run, and King as well. And Hitchcock, but they were never he's popular. It's popular only later in their careers to people go back and go, you know, what, this guy's kind of a kind of a genius.

John Truby 1:08:34
Yeah, yeah. Well, there's a thing. We know, in the back of our mind, we associate popularity equals mediocre. Right? Like Paul, like Paul Graham, it's cool. It's neither really good. It's not really bad. You don't you don't get that kind of popular success by being really embarrassingly bad. No, is just middle of the road. But in fact, there are some and most popular stuff is middle of the road. But there are some who are able to and I talked about it, this is an actual technique, which is to transcend the genre, right. And it's something you actually do in the script, which kicks it up from what everybody else is doing in that genre. And it's and it's, it's doing something that really haven't seen before. We've seen it very rarely. And basically what they're doing is they're taking the traditional beats, and they're twisting them, and resequencing in some cases, so that even though it's the same general structure, it's for example, a detective story. It's still a detective story. But the way they did the detective story I've never seen before, so it's filled with surprises. And this is one in my opinion, one of the keys if not the most important I won't say rule because I don't like that word, but but It's pretty damn close to a rule, which is that your best chance of success as a screenwriter or in any medium of storytelling is specialize in one genre. become the best at that form. Mix it with two or three other forms. And transcending, do it do the beats in a unique way that we've never seen. And if you do that, you get the combination rare combination of it's really popular. And it's highly respected, critical.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:43
It's like, like Pulp Fiction, like Pulp Fiction, like full solution, or recently, for example, I would just mention the detective for knives out.

John Truby 1:10:51
Yeah. The whodunit. Like, when was the last time we saw who done it like clue? Yeah, it doesn't exactly it does not exist in the movies anymore. It does not. The last one we had was certainly the orangutan express the Orient Express came out a little bit ago. But in terms of like an original, an original, you're going back to LA confidential.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:15
Yeah, you're right. Yeah,

John Truby 1:11:16
it is a transcendent. But in the basically, the detective form does not exist in the movies, it's all in television, all in television. And yet, he was able to do it in such a unique way that we want to, you know, leave home, leave all the detective possibilities we have on the TV, and actually go to the theater, watch it. I mean, that was really quite original and ingenious some of the things that he was doing. But that's what you want to do whatever your form is, you need to specialize, so you can master the beats, you can't twist the beats until you've mastered them in the first place. And by the way, this brings up another pet peeve of mine, one of the things I drives me absolutely nuts is why here, you know, on these on these Facebook posts or screenwriting places, they say, you know, you you have to, to learn the rules to great. And you know, the implication is that the ideal is to not have follow the rules, right? Not not follow any rules, because, because that stunts creativity, right? Well, on the surface that makes total sense. It's complete nonsense. Because what those rules are, what I always say is, well, if it's a good rule, you probably want to follow it. If it's a bad rule, No, you don't. But for example, if I'm, if I'm walking on the top of a mountain, and there's a rule that if you step off of the mountain, you're gonna fall to your death. You don't want to break that rule, right? Same thing goes for story, it was story, you know, there are certain things that that you want to do, you want an active main character driving the story, you want to have a single main character who can focus the conflict and so on. You want other opponents who can create a, a density of attack, and so on and so forth. There are certain rules are really useful. And this is the way genre works is well, those beats are rules, those are, those are beats that must be there, or it's not the form. If you don't have a first kiss, in your love story, you're dead. But is it what got that then you have to do it in a unique way.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:38
But isn't isn't it true though, like I've seen this happen with with directors with with screenwriters, they're so invested in showing that they do not adhere to these rules, that they'll go out on the limb to do something that's so outside the box of rules, and it doesn't work. So it's the equivalent of me going up or like a happy Madison. If you remember that one with Adam Sandler where he was the golfer. He played golf with a hockey stick. Because he that's the way he knew how to do it, and it worked for him. But generally speaking, if I show up to a golf golf course, and I'm going to drive with a hockey stick, because it's not the rule, right? I'm not going to make it there's certain things in a golf swing and a golf club. There's certain basics that you need to do. Now once you're Tiger Woods, and you've swung that if you want to bring out a hockey stick, I'm gonna watch Tiger Woods, the hockey stick and see how it works out.

John Truby 1:14:38
But but he's not going to do it if he's trying to win that tournament. That's the thing is right, the rules are there because they work. And the point is not to be slaved to the rule. And that's why we say learn the beats of the genre. But don't break those beats don't don't fail to don't say oh, I'm beat All these beats, I don't have to have them at all. No. Do the beats in a way we haven't seen before like cameras. Like canon. Exactly. Exactly. So it but but but this thing about genres and how you deal with genres. That's the game. That's the ballgame. Now, in every medium in pot and worldwide storage,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:20
I just never I've just never again once again, john, you've made me think about store in a completely unique way because I on a on a visceral level, I understood what you meant. But I never consciously thought about combining genre before but like, like, Yeah, he's right. It's an action mixed with myth mixed with a love story. And he's done it all his career. And he's been extremely successful. And with even What is the secret agent True Lies, you know, story, which, again, on paper, it sounds like, it doesn't sound like okay, it does. But when you start looking at a movie, like True Lies, or the Abyss even I mean, it's it's a love story. At the end of the day, the Abyss is a love story that happens to have sci fi and aliens and some cool action in it. And then there's and then he also don't forget, he always throws the technical, right, you know, promise over it, which a lot of screenwriters don't have that capability because they don't have a James Cameron in there. So he's a very unique style filmmaker as a whole package. It's it's just nobody, not really Scott, not Nolan, not Fincher, not Kubrick, there's just nobody that's had his combination of stuff and how he does it. Also keep in mind, keep in mind is so often forgotten. And I'm a huge believer in screenwriter as all true. I do not believe I think the director, auteur theory is one of the stupidest things that anybody ever came up with. And every time I teach my class in Paris, I've made it a point to tell them where it came from, of course, you know, and it's spread here. But, but, you know, some of the directors you mentioned, write their material, but some don't. And the thing about Cameron, which is why he's been able to get this consistency of not only quality, but consistency of popularity, is that he's always a co writer. And, and, and or, or the only way. And what that allows him to do is he's coming. He's creating it from the structural position, when director comes on to it, the stroke, yeah, you can change certain things. But the structure is there, you're not going to be messing with that. Unless you want massive cost overruns. So that's why I always look, I was looking at the screenplay, even though it's not fashionable, you know, they everybody else likes to throw around their directors. But to me, it's the unknown screenwriter, or writer, director, that is really where you need to look at for a what are the techniques, why this thing is working? And then and then be wired? Why is this person so good at where what is their skill level? and Cameron is just consistently done it over? Over years and years and years since our career over decades? Yeah, over decades of work. Now, I wanted to touch upon the villain a little bit and how to really write a really good villain and I love to use because we've spoke about him earlier. And I think there's just such it's such a wonderful teaching tool, the Joker and Batman, specifically in The Dark Knight, I just don't think that there's been in recent history, a villain written so beautifully. And it's so perfect for that hero. You throw the Joker in avatar, not so much. It doesn't work because he's not designed for that world. But because of the complete he's literally the mirror. The mirror image of Batman and that's what a good villain should be. Correct?

John Truby 1:19:05
Yes. Well, the question is, what does that mean? Yes, right. But what does that mean? And, and yes, I agree. Joe is one of the all time great opponents in movie history. Certainly it is. I would say one of the two keys for my opinion that it is the best superhero ever made. One being the fact that the original main character is got so much he's not super he's not this Superman type of character. He is a human being who is deeply flawed and trouble, but before you with that, you can't do anything else.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:46
But can I stop you for one second? Is Batman that amazing of a character and superhero without a joker?

John Truby 1:19:55
Yes, he is okay. But he cannot get to that level. He gets he gets to his highest level, because of like with it because of the joke. But the original source material, the reason that any Batman movie is going to be better than any Superman movie is because the original main character is human. And he his, his his flaws, is, is what the, what I call the the first of the seven major structural steps, the weakness need. He's got so much weakness need. And so much goes so much stuff that is that has been troubling him for his whole life, that anytime he goes into a story, you're automatically in 100 yard dash, you're at the 50 yard line. I mean, it's a tremendous advantage. But having said that, no, he cannot get to the heights of a character without the Joker because no talk about this anatomy, the story is the the opponent is probably the most important single element in a story. Because the opponent is what causes the hero to change. Without the attack of the opponent, the hero is not motivated to change, they're not motivated to look at the great internal flaw that starts the whole story and say, Hey, this isn't working for me, I'm getting my clock cleaned by this opponent. And the only way I'm going to beat him is if I deal with what's really the problem here. So that's number one. And always stay in the narrative story, the hero learns through the pump. And that's an incredibly important principle and story right there. Um, another key principle is that the hero is only as good as the as the person he fights. Because, and I always use the analogy of a tennis match or, or a game of sport, which is that each character drives the other to greatness is because of the conflict between them that each is forced to dictate not just one, not just the hero, each is forced to dig down and come up with their best stuff. And then they make that punch, and then you get the Counter Punch. And, and it's it's testing each of them to their, their fullest capability. So that when you get character change at the end for the hero, and really great stories, you're also going to get character change for the pump. Now, the you look at the Joker, the Joker is very misunderstood, in my opinion. Most when it came out, most most critics talked about him as this newest, you know, he had nothing of value. Not so he he, he very definitely has a set a value system. But it's just a very dark valley. And his point of view, he has a different point of view.

Right. And in fact, the entire movie is a thought experiment conducted by the Joker to prove his view of humanity, which is humans are simply animals with a thin veneer of civilization, and you put them in the slightest bit of trouble. And that veneer is going to get washed away. And you're going to see what they really are, which is they're just they're gonna, they're gonna eat you alive. And so that's why he gives that man these increasing moral challenges because he's trying to prove it. And to me, the, the, you know, the brilliance of the prisoner's dilemma thing with the ships at the end is just I mean, all of the all time great beats the big problem I have with it, and the biggest problem I have with the whole movie, I didn't believe that decision. I

Alex Ferrari 1:24:06
feel optimistic. It was too optimistic.

John Truby 1:24:07
Yeah, it's telling me that I ship full of regular people versus a ship of criminals, murderers and so on, that they are not going to blow up the criminal ship before the criminal ship can blow them up. It's not believable To me, it's not believable. But having said that, having said that, the construction of it and the fact that the Joker drives the store is one of the keys to the success of this thing. And it's a technique of you know, I talked before about plot is the biggest problem that writers have. And that's because there are more skills and techniques that go into plot than all the other writing skills combined. And people just don't know what they are and In my opinion, the single most important plot technique of all, is, start with your poem. Because what a plot really is. So we think of plots is one of the great misconceptions, or one of the things I've been working on over the last few years, in trying to come up with a way to explain plot to people that they could actually use, because it's so hard to get is that plot we think of plot is the sequence of actions that the hero takes in going after the goal. And, and that is on the surface, what is what is happening. And that's why we always talk about plot is what happens next? Well, except the question is, the real question is, what causes what happens next. And what causes what happens next is the main opponent. And that's why what a plot really is, is a sequence of actions, covering the entire story that the opponent comes up with, to put the hero in the greatest amount of trouble. If you think of plot that way. All of a sudden, how to plot your story will may not just suddenly come to you fully blown. But you're about 50% there. That's how important that concept is.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:27
But so as I never thought about this, but you're after thinking about it, you're right that the Dark Knight, Batman is not the one driving this show. Batman's not doesn't have a need that needs to be fulfilled. The Joker has his thesis he needs fulfilled, and everybody around him is, is addressing the Joker's craziness. So it's not a Batman does eventually change towards the end, obviously, and he makes that sacrifice if he does all the things that he does. But he's just constantly reacting to the Joker, the Joker is the spine of the movie, which is also a unique, which is also unique. It's it's not many popular films that have the villain as the as the driving factor.

John Truby 1:27:14
No. And and and, and it appears on the surface. to contradict what I said earlier, we always want to active hero. Well, Batman is quite apt, oh, fairy, it's just is just you know, and we are tracking his actions in trying to catch the opponent. So in that sense, we could say that the plot is the actions Batman takes to catch the Joker. And so he's very active in that sense. But the key to plot is that this sequence of actions that the opponent is taking, are mostly under the surface. We don't see them, and the hero doesn't see. And that's why we get reveals. That's why we get surprised, is because what is this what is a reveal. And plot is based on two major things conflict and movies. What does it reveal reveal is basically where the hero in the audience realize the move of the opponent. Oh, they just pulled that. I didn't know that. That's going to cause me a big problem. And now I have to deal with. That's a review. So but the point is that you want to start from the point of view of the opponent, how to come up with a sequence of actions they're going to use to defeat the hero and then hide most of them. And then the sequence of the story is the hero going after his goal discovering various things that his opponent is doing to try to keep him from getting if you think if you use that sequence, that process writing process, you're 100 times better off than if you do it the normal way which is here's my hero there's my goal. He's going to take action one and action to action three action for someone it doesn't work.

Alex Ferrari 1:29:09
So basically, without Pepsi there is no coke without Microsoft there is no Mac. Yes, yes. Because you know Coke is only coke because it had a Pepsi to fight. If it had an RC cola to fight it wouldn't work. This wasnot a great story. Not a good story you need you know you needed the literacy. You needed vanderbilts to go against Rockefeller you needed you needed those you need the giant industries you know that those those two in there but at the end of the day, it's two characters to have to battle it out. That's really good versus bad and has in it that's why I always tell always tell writers never think your opponent is two separate characters. Yes, they are separate two sides. But in fact, it is the relationship between them is the most important relationship in the entire story. And that's what you constantly want to be aware of is the relationship between the two of them, and how it goes back and forth, as each one gets the upper hand. So then, so Okay, so Batman Begins, if we're gonna if we could, we could, because I'm a huge Nolan fan. And I do agree with you. Sometimes he has so much plot. Because sometimes you just like, I can't, I can't just blow something up, Chris. I can't think that hard, right. I mean, inception, you're just like, what's going on? I don't know what's going on. But this is a fun ride. But so Batman Begins. You know, he basically revamped the entire Batman myth. And he did it in a beautiful way. And a lot when I saw Batman Begins, I was like, well, this is the best superhero movie ever made. Then the Dark Knight showed up and was like, Oh, my God, this is just a completely different level, then Batman, Dark Knight Rises shows up. And arguably the weakest of the three be yet.

I'll put it up against almost a lot of other superheroes. So what made that film not work nearly as well as the Dark Knight? Yeah. One of the great questions. Great questions. I get It's good.

John Truby 1:31:25
It's good. I always really good, it's good and good. But it's not as good as the other two. And it's not, it's not as good as he wanted to be. I because it was a I was I'm such a fan of his and such a fan of the the, you know, the two movies that came before it. I did a breakdown of that film. So my website troubie.com. And where I talked about, how could this go wrong? And in my opinion, first of all, it's because it is too ambitious. It's he tried to he basically, he went into it saying, okay, I've just done the dark mind. He

Alex Ferrari 1:32:07
made the Godfather. He was trying to make the Godfather two movies, right? Yeah.

John Truby 1:32:13
I've just done on that love. Sure. How do I top that? And in my opinion, in trying to top it, it was so ambitious. It's basically an analysis of a revolution in a society. How do you you know, in in the dark night, you have the problem of a Savior. But the society is still pretty much where it's at, you know, Batman takes the hit, so that they won't rely too much on a savior. And he'll he'll be the bad guy. So we don't get into this superhero cult, okay, but it's still basically the same society. Well, in The Dark Knight Rises, he's trying to say, Okay, how do we actually create a greater society? This is the classic question of science fiction. But he's trying to do it in the crime fantasy, combination genre, super hard to do. But if you're looking at, there's a number of beats from the French Revolution. And what the breakdown way of what I'm talking about is, it always take it down to the basic structure, mission beginning, you get those seven steps, it's really hard to screw it up. And in my opinion, he put so much superstructure in terms of the ambitions and what he was trying to tell him that story on a desire line, could not handle it. And I think I talked about it in the breakdown is a bridge too far.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:55
He just was a little too ambitious slightly, but he's still late, but he's still landed in places that most filmmakers and screenwriters would kill to do.

John Truby 1:34:03
Yeah, but the problem is, without an urgent desire line, tracking the entire story, right? Because you'd have a large chunk where as I recall, I haven't seen it since it's a mount. It just it just basically, exactly, there's a note bizarrely, and it sits there, there's no urgency at all. And when you don't have the spine at the base, the whole superstructure collapses, and is just, it's spinning its wheels, whereas, you know, what they sometimes do is plot for plot sake. And, and that's where that big theme, that ambitious theme, without the process, excuse me without the the plot and the structure underneath it, to drive it. Then it becomes over the top it becomes a little on the nose, and you don't get any story or urgency. You don't get any narrative drive. And so it gets really Tired

Alex Ferrari 1:35:01
yeah and i if i remember the movie correctly there was a moment when basically when Batman is thrown into the into the pit with a broken back after a battle Bane Yeah, it the story just sits there for about 20 to 25 minutes everyone's kind of walking around but Gotham he's taken over, it's a few weeks the cops are trapped underneath it. Like it's there's nothing to it there's there is no draw and then it picks up again.

John Truby 1:35:26
But there is actually the point. It's one of the, because I couldn't remember that. But yeah, rock is back. He's in the back, he's in the pit. He's not doing anything, the movie is not doing anything.

Alex Ferrari 1:35:38
Right. And and. And Bane isn't a bad villain. He's actually a very well written and good and obviously well performed villain, but and he has a very specific and that's the one thing that all the villains actually had, even from Batman Begins, they all have very specific points of view. And Bane. Bane had a similar idea that the Joker wanted, but it's just his like, he believes that this is going to happen. And this is my thesis, and I'm going to prove to you Batman, that this is my thesis. Yeah, you know,

John Truby 1:36:12
now I know that's a really good at opponents, they're really good at that. Because they know that's the trick to doing driving the plot that they want to drive. But but also just in terms of character sense, was always push is. In fact, I make the case that even using the term villain is a problem for a lot of writers. Because when we think of villain, we think of this very simplistic, evil characteristic of the mustache, right? Yeah, and, and, and it's so important, I always try to push writers make the main opponent as complex and characters your role. Because that is going to give you benefits, open down the line in not just in terms of character in terms of the emotion that the audience has for the story. And especially in terms of plot. It's just, it's just super cool.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:09
Yeah, I mean, and if you look at someone like you know, one of my favorite films of all time, I've spoken about many times on the show, Shawshank I mean, the villain of the the warden, and the end, and he had like three major villains the the prisoner, the the main, the main guard, and the and the warden is the ultimate villain. I mean, I think that's why it's so satisfying when Andy finally breaks free. And then and then just screws everybody along the way. It was such a brilliantly written story. I mean, it really is truly in love. Well done. Yeah, it is. It is probably one of the most perfect scripts I've ever read and one of the most perfect films ever seen. But I also would argue going back to Batman, that Batman Begins could be the Godfather where Dark Knights godfather to I could argue that. Yeah.

John Truby 1:38:05
Where I would disagree with us on the Godfather ranking. I feel that you know that you look at these charts. Yeah. Geez. You know, that godfather near the top godfather to a little higher than godfather three. I just saw that chart fly through Facebook. It was like all the trilogies and yeah, and to be fair, it is my contention is godfather two is not the movie The Godfather. One is why because every beat in godfather two was first done in godfather one,

Alex Ferrari 1:38:39
right without it's the foundation.

John Truby 1:38:41
It's the foundation. But every single story beat throughout the plot is in godfather one, the differences then godfather two, they get that cross cut structure. Also, comparing the gangsters you comparing the gangsters with the different generations. But But in terms of the, you know, my anatomy story, they do a extensive breakdown of the Godfather. And it was just one of those beautifully written, yes, it's great direction. So but I look at it from the point of view of storytelling of writing a screen a couple semesters, at every level, from structure through dialogue, every level never been done better. And in my opinion, it also tend to give a little bit more credit. Just as when, you know like when they're assigning credit in a screenplay. The original writer to me is always gets gets most of the credit. Because the work of creating all of those beats is much harder than it is to adjust them and polish right and polish. And so to me, even though the Polish job on godfather two was incredible that that all the beats are writing godfather one. And, you know, it's interesting, I talked about it in the class that the Godfather two was affected how he wrote godfather two was affected by the response that godfather one guy, because it didn't get the response he thought it would get if there was going to be fired every other day. That was before he even started Yes. shooting it in terms of the audience response to the ending of the story. Yeah, he what he thought structurally that made him Mario Puzo had done is create a character who even though he's become the new Godfather, that morally, he's become the devil. And the whole thing is structured to the connection with making the equation of Michael equals or godfather equals devil. And, and so you wanted to get something is very difficult to pull off for a writer in any meeting, which is a split, ending for the character. Whereas on one level, they have succeeded, succeeded tremendously. On the other level internally, they have fallen and failed. And all he got was people saying he succeeded. Isn't it great that he blew away or the five heads the families, with his brother in law and so on? Isn't that great, they didn't see the moral decline. And that heavily affected how he then wrote godfather two, to make Michael a much darker character. And much more, not somebody we're going to root for so much as some way that we see that this is a guy who is becoming more and more corrupt.

Alex Ferrari 1:41:49
So So basically, without Star Wars, there is no empire strikes back as far as it being that good and without Batman Begins, arguably, there's no Dark Knight. Yeah, you need the first. Yeah, in order to build build upon you can't come out the gate with Empire Strikes Back, it doesn't have the gravitas? Well, it's the same thing. If you want to go back to endgame. You can't have Avengers endgame without the 10 years of films. That's right, that built up those characters

John Truby 1:42:14
to get into that crescendo there in terms of to get a concluding film like that in a series. It's all based on what you did before. Yeah, all the setup, the setup work that they do in Marvel movies, songs. Amazing. Amazing. And that's why that you know, because they you've got this bank of characters, and they're great characters and great superhero characters. But it's obviously it's going to be in how you have them interact. And really, there's, it's quite an interesting story challenge that they have a Marvel, which is, what do you do with superheroes, because for the most part, they can die. And, and we know there are exceptions to that, which I won't mention, but but the point is, if they're superheroes, and they don't have any real physical Jeopardy, you know, I always laugh at the fights in superhero movies, because, you know, one guy hits the other guy with a punch that knocks him through three buildings. But you know, he shakes his head like a cartoon and then gets up and goes back to the fight. It's like, you know, very quickly you realize, hey, there's nothing's gonna happen in this fight.

Alex Ferrari 1:43:21
That's why Superman, that's why Superman so difficult to get behind.

John Truby 1:43:25
Exactly, exactly. But but so the trick the way Marvel handles is how they, they interweave and interconnect all the films of the separate ones. So that when they get them all together, in the, you know, the Avengers, or the Avengers, and all of the all, you know, the two, the two sides that the villain team versus our hero, where you're basically just taking the heavyweight fight and you're kicking it up another 10 notches, because you're getting one All Star team against another All Star team. It's all been set up, you know, years and years before with the other films. And it that's the payoff is so great.

Alex Ferrari 1:44:08
That's good. Like, that's what sports are like. It's the Yankees versus the Yankees were always the great villains. If you don't live in New York, if you're in New York, they're the heroes but the Yankees in the in the 50s in the 40s in the 50s. They were they were just dominating and the bulls were that in the 90s and, and LeBron James is that and, and so on. So it there's Oh, there is that, but it takes time to build that. But I have to I have to ask you this because I'm sure my audience wants to know since we've since we've been bringing it up. I've talked about this at nauseum, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. We understand that wide Marvel works. Can you discuss and dissect why DC doesn't. And why they've had so much trouble in the DC Universe, which arguably has some of the greatest superheroes of all time. They're easily the most well known. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are much more well known than anybody other than maybe Spider Man in the Marvel Universe prior to launching of the Marvel MCU back in the day. So why is it so difficult? What what happened at DC that it's taken them, it's still like they have some one offs here and there that are good, but they've not been able to create what Marvel has.

John Truby 1:45:23
No. And this is a big subject. And I can't say that I'm an expert on it, because I am not a fan for the most part, the DC universe

Alex Ferrari 1:45:34
that says volumes right there.

John Truby 1:45:37
But But then again, you know, I don't, because of that basic superhero problem in superhero storytelling, I'm not as big a fan of the Marvel universe as some people are. Although I totally agree with you about that the final film is the final Avengers, and a one we're just before. But in terms of their certain one off, DC films, DC comic films that are really good Wonder Woman, I thought was excellent, was wonderful. Um, and the Batman films, obviously in the hands of the Nolan brothers, yeah, or the best you get. But the problem that the problem comes in, how do you combine them into like the Justice League? It's the same thing. You're basically it's for storytellers is the problem, how you tell a story about an all star team. And there's lots of problems with all star teams. Because among them, first of all, if you're going to have an all star team, you got to have all star opposition team. And that means you got to establish all those characters. And you got to do that all that work in previous films. So that it's not just a, you know, five guys with different costumes on that supposedly, each has a different major superpower. And then we're supposed to get that's going to be really good conflict and drama. No, that's not going to do it. That's not what it's about. But if you notice, what to me is the real key to what Marvel has done, besides one time better setting up this stuff in previous films, which was they? I believe it was, wasn't a JJ Abrams, they brought in one of those wouldn't when they started to, they started to put the the Marvel characters in conflict with each other.

Alex Ferrari 1:47:34
I think dress Wheaton.

John Truby 1:47:36
Yeah, that's right. I knew was a TV guy was a TV guy. And that That, to me is the key right there. Because what they did is they brought it in, they brought in the knowledge of television, and television, I don't know if we talked about this last time, television is so far advanced, above film, right now, it has been for 20 years is a meeting. And there's various reasons for it that we don't have time to go into. But one of the things that they do that is based on is because they're doing an ongoing series. They know that the real juice of the story, when you sustain the story is, you don't bring in a new opponent every week, what you do in a police show or detective show, character that we don't even get to know know, you put the main characters of the show in opposition. That's where the conflicts got to comprehend. Because there's a character we care about those two characters we meet and know every week. So what they did was they figured out a way even though these are superheroes figured out a way to put them to have them fight amongst themselves. And all of a sudden, you get the fact that we care about these characters. We know these characters as human beings, not just superheroes, but also we're getting the conflict driven, and building based on characters, the characters we love, then typically at the end, they bring in the opposing team that gives us the big battle that gives us all the fireworks and so on and so forth. And we capo cap off the story, but was the trip to the whole story was all the conflict between the heroes that led up to And to me, that's what they're really good.

Alex Ferrari 1:49:21
And also, I think the biggest thing and I've said this a lot before too is that, that the Marvel universe of characters, they're all kind of based, for lack of a better word, they all have vulnerabilities, generally speaking, there's, they all have vulnerabilities, they all can get hurt. Yeah, even Iron Man, even even Thor who's a he's the only God in the Marvel Universe, where in the DC Universe, they're essentially all gods. You've got other than Batman, who, honestly is a marvel. He's a Marvel character who got the DC Universe because he's much more Marvel than anything else. But you got Superman, you got Wonder Woman, you got Green Lantern, you got the flash, these are God to Aquaman they're all gods and when you and that's the problem when you write for Gods if you can't kill them, or kill, fundamental problem right there, that's why Superman movies are so difficult, right? And you know I mentioned earlier we'll be talking about the seven major structure. So first step is weakness knee, if that's a God, they don't have a weakness name. If they don't have a vulnerability, you don't have a story. Because the whole story is designed to solve that we're too poor to test that weakness. And so and yeah, and that's why when when I heard that, that you're gonna have Batman versus Superman, that this is the stupidest idea you could possibly do, then notice they're trying to do what Marvel's do. They're trying to create conflict among the superheroes. But one is that God one is superhuman, the other is a human being. It's not even a contest, you would take about five seconds, not even

it's like, my wife who's not a superhero fan when she heard like Batman vs. Superman, that's ridiculous. Superman would kill him in five seconds. Literally, that's what she's not a fan. I'm

John Truby 1:51:13
like, yeah, that's why it's not gonna work. I guarantee you, every person in America, when they heard that movie was coming out, the very first thought they had was, that's gonna take five seconds.

Alex Ferrari 1:51:26
And it took them how long it took him, like two hours to get to the fight. And the fight lasted eight minutes. Right? And it was just so unsatisfying, is a general like insert a bleak, completely absurd, but going back to God's really quickly though, the Greeks, you know, they figured out the God thing.pretty well. I mean, if you go back to Zeus and Hades and all these, but what they did is they added human elements to all of these gods, you know, Zeus was

John Truby 1:51:54
they were all flawed characters, right? And now, you know, a really important thing to keep in mind is that, that in Greek mythology, those gods are not Gods versus humans. Gods are simply human beings taken to an nth degree. Right. And they're done that to show how humans really All

Alex Ferrari 1:52:18
right, exactly. And that's definitely not what Superman is. So john, I'm going to ask you a few questions that I asked all of my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

John Truby 1:52:34
Man, see what what I tend to do? Because it's so important that people know the genre that they're writing. Okay, that whenever somebody will, what are the screenplays you think are great that you recommend? I always first say, Well, what, what genre are you talking about? But But given that there are 12 1314 major genres that almost all stories are built on? Um, I can give you some examples. For example, example gangster, the Godfather, godfather one and Goodfellas. I put them I put them pretty much on the same level, both brilliant scripts, brilliant scripts. If you talk about crime, are you talking about Usual Suspects? The best.

Alex Ferrari 1:53:28
I'd say they come out of Hollywood in the last 25 years. That was a 90s film. So we're talking about 30 years plus now.

John Truby 1:53:37
Um, and also, if you want to talk about I mean that this this film just blows me away. And the writing on it is so great. It's also I think, in the crime. So I'd call it a transcendent Crime Story, which is in group.

Alex Ferrari 1:53:53
Oh, yeah. And Bruce? Yeah.

John Truby 1:53:55
Just just absolutely. Um, if you're talking about, you know, fantasy crime, you know, or the myth form. You talking about the dark night? Absolutely. You got to read that script. If you're talking about the action form of going back to a, I've got to go back 60 years and to a different country, and move that every action movie is based on it's the Seven Samurai probably the greatest script ever written, in my opinion, Grace. II, if you're talking about a love story, probably When Harry Met sell, romantic comedy, it doesn't get better than that. That and interesting how any holds any absolutely at that level as well. And going back many years, I'd say probably 80 years to one that is, is I often like to compare To Harry Met Sally, and it's actually Philadelphia Story. Oh, that's another one. Yeah, this is a It Happened One Night, but also great. Um, so I'm just trying to think of some of the other genres detective story. I go with la confidential. Absolutely brilliant script is good as that form gets on film. Now, of course, we want to talk about just great writing, then you gotta go, you gotta go to television. The Best Writing in the world is done on television has been for 20 years. Then looking at shows like Breaking Bad.

Alex Ferrari 1:55:46
Man, the wire

John Truby 1:55:48
higher. The my top five, five greatest shows ever Are those the wire Mad Men Breaking Bad Sopranos and the original Twilight Zone, and the writing the writing a different medium. But especially if you're interested in understanding how plot works and how to extend plot. You got to watch tell you got to look at how they extend, extend plot over multiple episodes to create an entire season.

Alex Ferrari 1:56:22
We should we should have you back just to talk about television one episode, like I said all week, because I know that we've even touched television in this episode. And I know that's something you're pretty passionate about. Yeah, it's, it's over the last almost 10 years now. The one class that I've asked to do most often around the world is television, how to write for television, because that's that's where the quality is. And if any country in the world can write at that level, because it's all in the writing. And the writers are the authors in television, not the director. And when you put the writers in charge, that's what you get to say, sir, to say, Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

John Truby 1:57:09
You got to learn your craft, you got to learn the craft, and you got to especially learn how to plot it's, it's, as they say, it's it is the skill, it is hard to come by because there's very little written on it. In and it's one of the reasons that, that almost all the classes that I've been doing the last few years are focused on that. But But without that ability to tell a story that is going to please the audience, not just be fulfilling to the audience, but please the audience. You're not in the game. And and it is especially given all of the obstacles to screenwriters. You know, much greater obstacles to screenwriters than for example, indie novels, where a lot of writers are going now because they're going 100% chance of getting your workout 100% chance. Right, right. screenwriters who have a point 0001 chance. So that's massive obstacle, the only way you get over that obstacle is you've got to have a plot in a in a genre or multiple genres that is so good, so unique and so surprising that the reader who is the gatekeeper and who is who is mentally what's the word I want? he's mentally programmed to say no. These people job is to say no. The only way you can get past them is to come up with that kind of a story with fabulous plot and incredible narrative draw. And then even a reader will not stop.

Alex Ferrari 1:58:53
And now you also said you had a gift for the tribe today. What What is that gift you are giving us sir?

John Truby 1:58:58
Well, I've put together a worksheet that I think will immediately increase the quality of writers story a lot, just by going through the seven techniques that I've listed there. And I've got a place on the worksheet for them to fill in their own story. And so it's the call to story rescue worksheet. And they can get it by going to www.tv forward slash indie. Indi.

Alex Ferrari 1:59:33
Okay. That would be true. b.com forward slash indie calm. That's right, I'm sure. Yeah. And I'll put that in the show notes, john. So john, and I appreciate that. JOHN, we could keep talking for at least another two hours about the story. And it's, it's we have to have you on more often because it's always a masterclass when you're on. So john, thank you so much for being on the show, and dropping knowledge bombs on the tribe today, man, thank you so much.

John Truby 1:59:58
Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure. You're great to talk to and love to do it anytime.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:04
As promised, that was an epic conversation. Thank you so, so much john, for dropping insanely big knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe today. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/087. And if you want access to that limited time free webinar that John Truby has put together for us, called stories that sell please head over to bulletproofscreenwriting.tv.truby thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.


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BPS 001: What Makes a Good Screenplay with John Truby

Today’s guest blew my mind on his approach to storytelling and screenwriting. John Truby is one of Hollywood’s premier screenwriting instructor and story consultants. Over the last 25 years, more than 50,000 people have attended his sold-out seminars around the world, with the American Film Institute declaring that his “course allows a writer to succeed in the fiercely competitive climate of Hollywood.”

Called “the best script doctor in the movie industry,” Truby serves as a story consultant for major studios and production companies worldwide and has been a script doctor on more than 1,800 movies, sitcoms, and television dramas for the likes of Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, FOX, HBO, Alliance Atlantis, Paramount, BBC, MTV and more.

Truby’s former students’ work has earned more than $15 billion at the box office, and include the writers, directors, and producers of such film blockbusters as RatatouilleIn TreatmentPirates of the CaribbeanX-Men I/II/IIIShrekMother Mary of ChrisBreaking BadHouseLostPlanet of the ApesScreamThe Fantastic FourThe NegotiatorStar WarsSleepless in SeattleOutbreakAfrican Cats (which Truby co-wrote for Disney) and more. Truby’s class is also regularly attended by top fiction writers and novelists who have topped the New York Times’ Bestseller List, won numerous prestigious literary awards, and have sold over 46 million books worldwide. Hollywood’s best-kept secret, Truby’s classes regularly attract everyone from first-time writers to A-list writers, producers, directors, filmmakers, story executives, novelists, fiction writers and more.

In addition to his sold-out seminars, John Truby remains on the cutting- edge of technology having created and developed Truby Blockbuster – the bestselling software designed to intuitively help writers learn and understand the art of developing their story ideas into fully realized professionally-structured scripts.

Truby’s principles and methods are the most modern, exciting approach to screenwriting and storytelling to be developed in a generation, which is why his classes regularly attract everyone from Oscar winners to first-time writers.

We get into the weeds of story in this EPIC conversation. Get ready to take notes. Enjoy!

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari
You are listening to the if h bond jazz network for more amazing filmmaking and screenwriting podcasts, just go to ifH podcast network.com

Welcome to the bulletproof screenwriting podcast episode number 87. And a vast majority of stories, a character with weaknesses struggles to achieve something and ends up changed positively or negatively as a result, john Truby broadcasting from a

dark windowless room in Hollywood when we really should be working on that next draft. It's the bulletproof screenwriting podcast showing you the craft and business of screenwriting, teaching you how to make your screenplay bulletproof. And here's your host, Alex Ferrari.

John Truby
Welcome to another episode of The bulletproof screenwriting Podcast. I am your humble host, Alex Ferrari. Now today's show is sponsored by bulletproof script coverage. Now, unlike other script coverage services, bulletproof script coverage actually focuses on the kind of project you are and the goals of the project you are. So we actually break it down by three categories micro budget, indie film market and studio film. There's no reason to get coverage from a reader that's used to reading tentpole movies when your movie is going to be done for $100,000 and we wanted to focus on that at bulletproof script coverage. Our readers have worked with Marvel Studios CAA, w. m. e, NBC, HBO, Disney, Scott free Warner Brothers, the blacklist and many many more. So if you need your screenplay or TV script covered by professional readers, head on over to cover my screenplay.com Now guys, today on the show, we have one of the most popular guests that has ever graced the bulletproof screenwriting podcast, the legendary john Truby is back. JOHN is the author of the anatomy of story 22 steps to becoming a master storyteller. And he was episode number one of this podcast and has been downloaded 10s of 1000s of times, if not over 100,000 times. JOHN is one of the most respected and sought after story consultants in the film industry. He has had over 50,000 students over the course of his career, and his former students have earned more than $15 billion at the box office. With films like Ratatouille, Pirates of the Caribbean Marvel's x men saga, Shrek, Breaking Bad Planet of the Apes scream, the Fantastic Four Star Wars and so many more. JOHN has a very unique way of looking at story and breaking story down in a way that everybody can understand. And this is also one of the reasons why I teamed up with john to create a free webinar for the tribe and it's called stories that sell. If you want to watch this over hour long webinar, head over to bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash troubIe. So sit back, relax and enjoy my epic conversation with john Truby. I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, john Truby. How you doing john?

Good to see Alex great to be back.

You. You were one of you were actually Episode One of the bulletproof screenwriting podcast A while ago when I first launched this podcast and and it's been one of the most downloaded episodes in the history of the show. And it was fairly epic if I remember it was like night at least 90. Yeah. everyone listening strap in because it's gonna be it's gonna be a while. Now, for people who don't know who you are, john, can you tell everybody a little bit about yourself?

Yeah, I've been teaching story for over 30 years now. Most of the students that I've had I've had over 50,000 students are screenwriters. But my work has been focused toward story in general, meaning it works for novelists, screenwriters, short story, theatre, Video game, every medium there is, is all about telling a great story. And even though there are clearly some major differences between the means. I've found that if you know the techniques of good storytelling, you will be successful in any one of those mediums. So I've been really doing that and also the last over 30 years, working as a story consultant, script consultant, and that's where most of my work has been done. I've done over 1000 scripts on and it's you know, what happens is typically a studio will come to me with a script that needs work. They don't want to spend upwards of 100 to $200 million making in, in marketing it without having a script that's going to be it's going to work. And so they asked me, you know, and then I'm coming in not as a co writer, not as a somebody who is writing dialogue, but somebody who is going to help them get the story, right. And then, and and what a lot of people don't realize is that most scripts that are actually made, have other writers, story consultants that sort of think come on board, because it's just too expensive. Not to get it right. So that's, that's what I've been spending my time doing. And I found that, that trying to understand story is a lifetime commitment. It's, it's that fascinating, and it's that complex. And what I've tried to do is, is, is turn probably the most complex craft in the world into something that's easy to understand and easy to apply. So that a writer can write their own best work. That's what that's really what I'm always about is helping writers write their best.

What I what I find fascinating from our last interview, and from your book, by the way, which everybody listening, if you have not read anatomy of story, you're doing yourself a disservice. So you have to read this book. It's been out for a while, but boy does it is that is evergreen of a book of I've ever seen. It'll be it'll still be fresh in 100 years is to refresh because stories story, no matter. It's going back to the poetics.

Yeah, that's right.

So what are what I what one thing that kind of blew my mind when I spoke to you the first time, and I just never thought of it this way. It was like, you know, you always think of the three act structure, you always think of the you know, the beginning, the middle of the end, the hero's journey, all of those kind of things, you know, and in Campbell and that kind of stuff. And you said something that was so, so kind of rocked my world and story, you're like, Well, why don't you throw the hero's journey on a detective story. Let me see how that works out for you. And I was just, I just my mind exploded because it was like, it just blew the doors off the concept that every single story is exactly the same, which it's not. So can you kind of delve a little bit into that.

Yeah, it what you put your finger on is my opinion, the biggest problem that writers face screenwriters. They have these these two basic models for how they think you're supposed to write the script and tell the story. One is hero's journey, the other three x structure. And the problem is that they're highly limited. They're basically for elementary level writing, they're there for beginners, and they simply don't work at the professional level. The reason they don't work at the professional level is different depending on which ones you're going to use. When it comes to hero's journey. The problem with hero's journey is that the beats that are listed there, those are the Joseph Campbell beats, those are valid beats. But those are the beats of a myth. Story. Myth is one of the major genres. I do classes in all the major genres. Myth is one of them. But there's another 12 or 13 major genres, that all worldwide storytelling is based on. Either one of those genres, or more more typically a mix a combination of those. Well, Campbell laid out very effectively the beats of the myth form, which is probably the oldest story form. The problem is, in in the modern day, we're not just writing myths, stories. And And specifically, Another criticism of Joseph Campbell beats is that they're actually not just a myth story, they are the male warrior myth story. For example, they don't have anything to do with a female myth, which is a massive story form in the myth area. So the problem is, that's why I mentioned before, you know, if you're going to write a detective stories is a relatively modern form, you're going to be in big trouble. You're going to write yourself into a hole really fast. Love Story, Crime Story. fantasy, fantasy has certain connections to myths, so you won't be as big trouble if you do it with fantasy. But even there, the story structure of myth and fantasy are fundamentally different. They're different beasts. And so if you're using a structure for myth to write a fantasy is going to take you down the wrong track. Now when it comes to three act structure, that's it. bigger problem, because three out of structure it at least with with hero's journey, those beats are valid. Those actually will tell a good story in the military. But three structure is is nothing. There's nothing in it. It's simply a way to break a story into three sections. Because it appears to make it more manageable. But really all it does is give you guideposts when you say so I'm in the first act? Well, you're in the beginning. And if I'm in the second act, I'm in the middle, you know, all it is, is fancy words apply to beginning, middle and end. And what I've always contended is it doesn't do anything for you in terms of creating a story triac was really invented by a story analyst looking at a script after had been written to try to see if he could figure out what was happening at each step of the process.

Reverse Engineering reverse engineer. Yeah,

exactly. And, and unfortunately, in my opinion, this caught on and it became kind of the, you know, the the mantra that people would use, and I believe that it has caused more problems. It has killed more writers writing careers than any other single element in story. And that's why that's why I've been so you know, adamant about over the over 30 years that I've been teaching story, that it's fine to start with it. That's great, because when you first starting, you don't know what you're doing it, it gives you a little confidence, it gives you a sense of well, let's let's I can at least divide this these events are going to happen in the first act, this lot generally happen in the second act, and this will happen in the third as well, that's helpful. But what I always then say is, now you got to move beyond that. Because the professional storytelling, especially in screenwriting, is so much more advanced than that if you're relying on that, and and you think that you have now learned how to structure a story, you're dead, you're absolutely dead.

There's, there's I've had the privilege of interviewing a lot of big time, very successful screenwriters on the show. And I've talked to them sometimes on air sometimes off but from what I hear is like, I love talking about the hero's journey, and all this kind of stuff with them sometimes, and they say, a couple of these, these are billion dollar account billion dollar screenwriters, because they've worked on some very big shows. And they go Look, man, you can, after the fact you can slap anything onto a story structures concern, I can make it look like a hero's journey, I can throw five acts on it, I can throw four acts on it, I could throw six acts on it, I can, it's just kind of like you're trying to just, it's not what started the process. But you can slap whatever show you want on it after the fact. And the problem is that a lot of screenwriters think that that is the only way and like you're saying early on, it makes a lot of sense. But when you start getting into some more advanced storytelling, more advanced screenwriting, your it's not just the simple three act structure, even though you can apply that onto it,

right, like you can do what I what I always tell people is that, you know, they say, well, well, john, you know, I applied it to my script, or I applied it to Raiders, the Lost Ark, or this movie or that movie, and it was it was there. And I say exactly what you just said, which is you can divide anything into three parts, or four parts, or seven parts or 10 parts, you know, it's you take in a pie, and you're just making more slices. That doesn't mean that it's going to give you any techniques or tools to create the pie in the first place. And that's the big distinction that people have so much trouble with, and so hard to get them to go beyond that, in order to really become a craftsperson at the highest level, and that's again, what we're all talking about. What we should be talking about is how do you write at the level that can get cheap, professional work. And that means you got to be really, really good at all of these skills of story, including character, structure, plot, the symbol and so on and so forth. That three act doesn't even touch.

It's it's fascinating because, you know, I love the pie technique, because it's like it's literally a pie and you I could look at the pie and I could say what the pie was made of, but I didn't bake the pie. You need to know half the baker did what the baker does which is is remarkable. So, going going back a little bit, when you're seeing screenwriters is that the biggest mistake you see screenwriters make is is applying this this three act structure? because like you said, Raiders of the Lost Ark to my understanding? And please correct me if I'm wrong, the Raiders of the Lost Ark? is a five act show or is it? Or is it not, you could you could cut up,

you cut it up at the three point it's totally arbitrary you are you're adding an outside division to the process. What I talk about the anatomy story is a story process that is organic, which simply means I'm going to track a main character working through a plot to get a goal. And therefore what what is actually sequencing that story is the development of that character as they go from first wanting the goal to either accomplishing or failing to get the goal. And what is the internal change that that person goes through, as they go through the process, the external process of a plot. And that that means that every story that you write is going to be unique, because it's going to be based on you your unique main character, and nobody else has that character. And how you take that character how you make them change. And so that's whereas with with react, we've just taken any old story and said, Okay, we're gonna divide it at this point. And at this point, and now we've got three acts has nothing to do with the main character, it has nothing to do with the more complex plot sequence. Now to get to your question, this problem with three act, it is the biggest problem that people have only because it prevents them from understanding how to solve the real problem. And the real problem is that, and I based this on years of experience and 1000s of writers, the real problem that writers have in terms of working professional, is they don't how to construct a plot. plot is the game, because we're talking about popular storytelling, and what drives popular storytelling and every medium cluding screenwriter is the ability to come up with a surprising plot that people have not seen before. Now think about how hard that is, especially when you have people doing things like hero's journey, so on, which are hitting the same beats every single time. How are you going to come up with something that they haven't seen before? In fact, that's the biggest problem other with three X, excuse me with the hero's journey, I mentioned that it only applies to myth. But the other problem is that we've seen it so many times that everybody knows what's going to happen. It's boring. All right. So it comes down to this, this problem with plot and, and and why we say anybody who's been writing for any length of time, knows the importance of a strong main character. Okay, so they they study, they work hard to try to come up with and understand how how you create a good bancaire. They know the importance of good dialogue. Okay, which you do at the end of the process. And where the root of the problem is that when they think about Okay, now it comes time for me to create the plot? Well, they don't know how to do that. And there's no book that tells them, they think that tells them how to do that. And so they think, well, I'll just figure it out as I go. And guess what doesn't work. That way, you are not going to figure it out as you go, what is going to happen 99% of the time is that you start down this path of the plot, you're going to get about 15 or 20 pages in, you're going to run yourself into a dead end, and you're going to stop, you're going to run into writer's block, and you're going to think it will this is something on a psychological problem. No, it's not a problem to psychology, it's a problem with your plot. You don't know what the story is going to do here. And because you didn't think of it from the beginning as an entire plot sequence, you're not gonna be able to get out of this problem. And so what I'm what I've been really pushing last few years, all the work, the new work that I've been doing is all about how do you create plot? How do you explain to people how to create plot because it's very complicated. And especially how do you create plot that gives your story maximum narrative drive, because that's what the studio studios want to do is care about three things. Three things when they get your script, narrowed, drive, narrative drive and narrow Right. That's it, because that's what sells to a worldwide audience. Right? That something like Raiders of the Lost Ark, what does it have? It has fantastic narrative drive. It also has a great character. It has some fun scenes, some fun dialogue, there's some great fantasy in there, and so on and so forth. But what's really making that thing work is fantastic narrative drive. That is the definition of popular storytelling. And so that's where I've been doing all my work and trying to get writers to focus on to understand, if you want to succeed at the highest levels, you've got to become a master of plot, you'll get the character, you'll get the dialogue, if you write a good plot with a strong main character, the dialogue practically writes itself. People don't think I'm crazy when I say that, but it's absolutely true. Because then you're not asking the dialogue to do what it can't do. You're not asking the dialogue to structure the story, which a lot of people do. So that's why that's why I pushed so hard on this, on creating plot, learning how to create plot, especially plot with intense narrative drive. And that by the way, you know, we're going to talk later about this story rescue worksheet that I have for people. That's what that's all about, too, which is these are techniques to give you maximum narrative drive in your script.

Now, I was reading a book, The Stephen King book on writing, which is a fantastic book. And he said something and always stuck with me was really and I wanted to hear your thoughts on this is that he's like, if you you have to have the basics of grasp of the English language. So he goes, you have to understand this, this and this and has to be instinctual, not because like when I'm writing, because I've been writing for, you know, you know, a long time as it throughout my life, just as not even in creative just generally, you have a kind of taste for what English is supposed to sound like, and how it's supposed to be written and basic grammar and these, these are things he goes, You need to understand this instinctually if you're thinking about it too heavily, you need to go back to the drawing board. And I feel that with Master storytellers, a lot of this is just instinctual because they've done it so many times, like a master craftsman like a master carpenter, like a master painter. There's certain strokes that they've done 10,000 times. And if you try to, to verbalize it, it's almost impossible to verbalize it.

I find that is almost always the case with really the top writers. They're very bad at verbalizing how they got there. Right. What I would say to a Stephen King or anyone else like that is, yeah, you're absolutely right. Once you get to that position where you're writing at that level, you but that's you, you don't need to analyze it too much, because you've already got it as part of your second and third nature. It's already embedded in how you think what they never talk about is, well, gee, Steven added you did you have this kind of ability when you were six years old? And first going to school? No, you did. You know, it's by the, by the time you've gotten through all your education, and you've written all these books, and you've made some mistakes, and you obviously have have done extremely well, at the same time. That entire process is a process of improving and increasing the craft. Now, he may not be one who likes to verbalize it or analyze it. That's great, that's fine. But what I would say to anybody else who is not currently writing at the level of Stephen King, which is that many By the way,you don't have that luxury, right, you do not have that luxury. And that's why when you know, the anatomy story book, and the recent work I've been doing on plot, it's all about trying to give people techniques, specific, applicable techniques that you can apply to your story right now. And in doing that, you're going to master that technique. So that down the road a few years, when your level of ability has gone way up, then you don't have to think what was the What was the name of that technique

that I use there? It's in there. Exactly. But it's the same thing as you know, and I hate to use baseball analogies, but I actually love using baseball analogies where you might have a natural swing and maybe when you're you know 15 1617 you have a natural swing but when you start getting you know that that natural swings, not going to get you into the majors for you to be anybody of any magnitude. So slowly but surely. As you take more swings, you start getting coached, you start, you know, you start getting coached on technique here, because now you pick up a thing there there. And then because you've been at the plate so many times, it becomes second nature, you don't even think about it, you don't analyze it. But as you're going up, you're analyzing that swing, you're watching it, you're really taking notice.

But at a certain point, you're getting feedback from that batting coach, who is saying, Hey, I noticed there's a little switch in your swing that you didn't have two weeks ago, right? We haven't been hitting since then. And because you need that outside eye to say, look, that natural process, quote, natural process, which is actually made up of multiple smaller techniques, somehow got out of kilter. And we got to identify that and fix it, so you can get back to the natural swing.

So you're basically like a story chiropractor, chiropractor, he got it. He got to adjust the spine to get I

get that spine structure working. But I use this similar I use a similar analogy with with basketball. I mean, if if I wasn't writing and in teaching writing, I would like to be a point guard in the NBA, that that would be my second choice, sir. Now, and you know, and I always, in this comes up, when when people say to me, you know, john, I don't need to read any of these books, all I need to do is what you know, all you have to do to write successfully is to write well, there's a certain truth to that, right. If you don't write anything, you're not going to write successfully, because you haven't written anything, right? But the thing that all you have to do is write, in order to write at the professional level is nonsense. It's a similar thing of saying, you know, I would like to play point guard in the NBA, all I have to do is play basketball, right? Now, there's a lot of time on the playground, I get a lot of time playing basketball, but I'm not going to get close to the NBA. Because a I don't have the natural ability. But much more importantly, I have not been getting extensive high level coaching. Since the age I picked up the ball. You know, you take a guy like Michael Jordan, or for for younger people than myself,

LeBron James, right.

But the guy is a fantastic natural talent. Sure, but the guy has been getting coaching to refine that talent for his entire life

Alex Ferrari
and practicing and adjusting and going. And

John Truby
what happens is we look at him at when he plays just as we look at a Stephen King book, and we see the polished product, we don't see the techniques, the hundreds of techniques sitting under the surface that makes it look like he's just taken a walk in the park. Right? It's a lot more complicated than that. And to get to that level, or to attempt to get to that level, you got to learn those techniques.

Right? And it's the same thing with like, film directing, like, you know, you look at the masters, and you just go oh, my God, like you look at a Kubrick film. And there's just so much density in his technique. And he literally would wait five, seven years prepping a film. So he had everything really, or Hitchcock or these kind of guys. But there is so much work that goes into that that makes it the easier it looks the harder it was to get there. Yeah. Many many ways. Absolutely. Now you I'm sure you're asked by screenwriters yet you're asked questions all the time, from screenwriters. How do we get better how to do this? What are some of the best questions you get asked by screenwriters?

Well, let me first start off by saying the wrong questions.

I was gonna say that was my next question. You ruined it, john. We'll start off with the worst, then we'll go to the best Sure.

Yeah. But the worst is See, it's it's has to do with the underlying problem. Most writers think that the reason they have not yet reached success is because they don't know the right people. This is a business of connections. How many times have we heard that? And so when I would give a talk, or teach a class, the inevitable question is, how do I sell my script? How do I get an agent? How do I meet producers who will buy material and so on? And it's not about how do I write better? It's how do I sell and clearly these are concerns week, we want to sell our work. But I consider that the, by far the biggest misconception that writers have about why they do not succeed. And I believe that in order to succeed, you got to know what the problem is first. The problem is not that you're not connected, I find that 99.9% of writers, when they finally meet a connection, who can really do them some good. They don't have the material to give to them. But by by the material, I mean, I don't mean they don't have a script, they got a script. It's not good enough. It's not good enough. But they don't want to say that to me. They don't want to say, hey, john, you know, I don't think I'm a good writer yet. And I don't want to say it to them. But that's the that's the probable fact, is what you need to be knowing what you what you need to be asking is, technically what is wrong with my story? Why is this story not working? Because the only thing that sells his story? So, you know, when it when it comes time to the best question, it really, it tends to be focused on the if the writer understands that the real structural elements under the surface that are making all the difference, and do it. So those are that they understand the desire line. And so they'll ask me is my desire line working, because the desire is the spine of the story. If they asked me a question like that, I know this person has a shot to write a really good script, because everything's going to hang on that spot. And then if they ask me something like, the conflict is not working. I don't know why. That tells me also, that they're on the right track, because after desire and spine is opposition and conflict. You can't figure out the opposition until you get the goal. This is a big mistake that a lot of writers make, you know, they think they might think in terms of conflict first, and there's no goal to hang it on. There's nothing to fight about. You can't have people fight, unless they're fighting over a goal. And that is a goal that both the hero and the main opponent should have. So when I hear people talk about these, the structural underpinnings of a good story, then I know that they're focused in the right area. And they may not fix the problem right now. But they're going to get, because if you stay focused on those kind of structural things, I always say, you get the seven steps, right, it's really hard to screw it up. And by the seven steps, I'm gonna put the seven major structure steps in any good story, you get those, right, you've got the DNA of the story, you've got the basic fabric and, and, and structure spine of that story. And then the rest of it is adding on the special details, the twists and turns and so on. But if you've got the strong spine, if if your opposition set up and conflict is correct, it's going to make that part of it so much easier.

Alex Ferrari
Now, everyone's always looking at blockbusters of how to write this, you know how to make money with their scripts and all this stuff. And, and what makes a blockbuster blockbuster. So I'll ask you the question, what are some key elements to a successful popular film, even though both you and I know and I'll speak for you and please correct me if I'm wrong, that the chances of a screenwriter who's starting out writing 150 to $200 million script that gets picked up by a studio is 0.0000%. But But I think that even if you're able to write something of that magnitude, it might be a good Friday example, or might get him an agent or might get them and God knows it might get produced or picked up or something. But what are those key elements? And do you agree with that? And what are the key elements?

John Truby
I do agree with that. The your idea, when you're writing that script is not to sell that it's highly unlikely that it's going to happen if it happens, fantastic. But what you're trying to do is show that you're a professional, right? That that you are at the level that you can be hired, because that's where all the work is not in spec scripts. It's getting hired because because you're a professional and you they know you're going to do the job and think about it. You got you got all this money that you have to spend on a lighter, you're going to want to be damn certain that this person is going to predict in this very esoteric world of writing and creating a new story that they're going to be able to come in with a great a great script every time including the time when they spit when I give my money. So absolutely. That's correct. The it's funny that you asked this question because I always ask question to students. When I teach my anatomy of story class, I say, Why do you think? What do you think is causes a blockbuster? Why is there a blockbuster? And, and I usually do it in terms of, you know, American movies, by far make the most money in the world. So I always do it in terms of like, maybe teach in Berlin or Paris or whatever, say, Why do American movies make so much money? And they always have the same two answers. And it's so hilarious. The first answer they give is, you have all the movie stars. And, and I, okay, yes, true. But Hollywood has not been a movie star based business for at least 20 years, right? At least 20 years. And the only people who don't know that still may be a few movie stars left that are not getting paid what they think they deserve. But, but but other than that, you know, it's not a movie star business. The other then they give the answer. Well, you spend all this money on special effects. Right? And we'll end with yes, we do all those all those Marvel movies, our money on special effects. But But then I point out, there's just hundreds 1000s of movies that spent a lot of money on special effects, and there were bombs at the box off

Alex Ferrari
and movie stars and movie stars?

John Truby
Absolutely. So neither of those has to do is their way down the list. In terms of why something a blockbuster? And the answer, and it won't be surprising hearing it for me. But it is true. I fervently believe it. The reason that a movie as a blockbuster is embedded right in script. And it has to do with those key structural elements I was just talking about the first of it, first of them being a desire line, a strong clear desire line that extends through the entire length of the script, that the hero chases after with intense speed and energy, and will do anything to get it. Because what that does is it provides narrative drive, which does not depend on particular culture. Everybody knows, I see a character with a goal. I like the character, I want him to get the goal. Therefore, if I can see him, blast through all these opponents trying to stop him, especially if he is starts off as an underdog and then gets the goal fantastic world over. No matter what the language no matter what the culture, they want to see that. So that's what you start off with you start off with this strong spine. And and and I talked about this in the story rescue worksheet, which is it's got to be a gold with a clear end point. We have to know specifically at the end of the story, did they hero get it or fail? Now, obviously, most of the time they get it and usually if you want a blockbuster, it's a good idea for them to succeed in the goal. But interestingly enough, it's not necessary. That that he has that goal. And then it goes after it with intense speed and energy that makes all the difference. I mean,

Alex Ferrari
Raiders Raiders, he didn't get the goal. Right. Right. He lost the Ark of the Covenant. It's got rights in the in the warehouse somewhere.

John Truby
That's right. Exactly right. And and so it but it's it's the right, and what the desire line is what provides the ride and Hollywood blockbuster movies or thrill rides. And the question is structurally How do you get that? Well, the first and most necessary is you've got to have that strong desire line by a single hero. Now, once you do that, know that you see in blockbuster story is the opposition setup. You have to have one main opponent who is present and attacking for the entire store. You hear that? You said Well, obviously you know what when I watch all my movies, there's always that opponent there. Well, yeah, what you're not saying are all the scripts where the opponent where they're either isn't a main opponent, or isn't a main opponent who's there for a while and then you know, he disappears for a while and no, it's got to be one main opponent attacking the hero relentlessly. And then that's that's that's the tip of the iceberg because then you have to have a support group of opponents, preferably hidden under the surface. So we don't see how these opponents are connected. They are connected. They're not always in the most popular and typically the best stories. The opposition is connected to each other in some way, but it's a hidden hierarchy. So this is another key because what does that do? It gives you ongoing conflict, each of these things, the conflict never stops. And it's also what allows you to build the conflict. You know, people when they talk these three act structure, people say, Oh, I'm having, if you notice, they always have second act problems. Wasn't first act problems, not third act problems, it's second eye problems. Okay, there's 99% of scripts go bad in the middle, because the writer using three x structure doesn't know what to do with the story. Well, what's supposed to happen is that in this conflict between the hero and the opposition over the goal, you normally get conflict, you build conflict. And in less, you set up this up this opposition in a connected way, where each opponent wants to defeat the hero for a different reason. And using a different technique, then you can create what I call this Gatling gun approach to the old Gatling gun machine gun type of thing. Instead of instead of, okay, the hero's taking action steps to reach the goal 10 minutes later, on apart the main opponent attacks, and then he goes another 10 minutes. And then the main opponent attacks again, know, if you've got this hierarchy of opposition, main opponent attacks, second opponent attacks, third opponent attacks back to the main upon then the second part, bam, bam, bam, bam. So what you're getting is what I call the key to the middle, which is punch, Counter Punch. That's the key to the middle of the story, you really what you're trying to set up as a heavyweight fight between two equally match opponents, and they are pounding the shit out of each other. And that's what until you get to the very end with the battle, which is the biggest conflict of all. And one of them probably the hero is going to win. And the story I leave the theater, I feel fantastic. I tell them what's wrong.

Alex Ferrari
And this is why the whole end game you know, Avengers endgame was such a monster hit. But what they did was they built it up over a decade of stories that built up those characters. And it was just something that no one's ever done in Hollywood, to the point where at the end, and spoiler alert, if you guys haven't seen this, but at the end when I mean, if you haven't, it's not my fault, guys. But at the end when Iron Man finally does that, that snap, and and that's a perfect example, like Thanos is such a amazing villain, because he's an unmovable object. I mean, and I love the way they set it up in infinity, Infinity War, which is the first part of that in the very, very beginning. They throw the Hulk Adam and we all know the Hulk is the most powerful thing we've seen, nobody can beat. No one could be and he wipes the floor with the Hulk in five minutes, and you're like, Oh, this guy and but that's just such wonderful writing and so beautifully within that one minute you knew this is someone not to be trifled with if the Hulk just got his ass handed to them. And then it's just this constant beating that he did. I mean, that was just beats on the Avengers beats on and beats on them to finally at the end, it takes everybody to finally to finally beat them. I was watching a movie the other day because you know we're in the middle of COVID so you start we recycling old movie Jen seen in like a decade or two. And I was watching boar at and I hadn't seen Bora in at least 15 years. And it's still funny. It's still funny to this day. But when you were talking about desire even as a silly of a film that's that is he has this desire that holds through the entire movie is he wants to go and meet Pamela Anderson and marry her. It that drives the whole story without that it's just a dude Miranda ring around the country. It's a perfect example of no matter what you do, you have to have a clear desire endpoint, even if it is fakie is that

it's something that drives the story.

John Truby
But so what you know because it's it's what and this by the way, is an especially difficult problem that comedy writers have. They again they dealing with certain misconceptions that are killing and the big misconception copywriters have they think it's you pack as many jokes in the story as you can. Okay, that is disaster right there. Because what happens is, within our realize is that a joke stops before momentum of the store, because we are stopping everybody stopping to watch somebody fall.

Alex Ferrari
Yeah, on a banana peel, rock.

John Truby
And then we laugh that, Okay, that was great. I really enjoyed that. Okay, you string too many of those together, it's beginning without setting up a storyline, a desire line that you hang everything on. And all of a sudden, again, you tend to 15 minutes in, you hit the dead end wall, because there is no for story momentum, there's no narrative drive, the narrative drive is just as important if not more important, in a comedy, as it is in something like Avengers, which, which at least has the benefit of all this big violent conflict that can that you know, dazzle right to keep keep you dazzled. But in comedy know, you've got to hang those jokes on a storyline. And that is provided by the clear goal that the hero is only going to get to at the very end.

Alex Ferrari
And and it's silly, and for everyone listening who writes comedy, I mean, even it's silly of movies like airplane, and Dumb and Dumber, who are classics and comedy. Dumb and Dumber. They're trying to get the suitcase back to the girl who has fallen in love with, you know, from a distance. That's the driving factor airplane, we got to land this and survive, we got to land the plane and survive. That's the but it's very there. They're not really grand plots here. It's very simple. But the point is it's a comedy we need something to to hang the joke's on that and give an excuse to go where we're gonna go with it. So an airplane is obvious and but Dumb and Dumber. They're going across country and and they keep all these jokes happen along the way, but it's being driven by something because if if there wasn't, then there'd be no plot. It's just be two guys doing stupid stuff. It's Beavis and Butthead, essentially.

John Truby
Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari
Which is, now I wanted to talk to you about it, because we didn't touch this last time. And, and I wanted to hear your thoughts about it. theme. theme is such an important part. And I feel it's something that a lot of screenwriters just don't even think about. It's like an afterthought about the theme of what are you trying to say with the story? What's the underlining, you know, your arc for the character for the story? Like, what are you trying to say? Can you talk a little bit about theme and how you how it, you know, you you think about it? Sure.

John Truby
So this is getting a little freaky, because the the thing that I've most been working on with the new book that I'm writing, it is theme is, that is what, you know, I talked just before about the fact that the big problem that separates the top professions from everybody else is the ability to plot. But we got to take that even a step further. The real problem that even some of the the top professions have is that they don't know how to express the theme through the complex plot. That's where you get the double punch. Now plot just plot on its own is great. And that's the essence of popular storytelling. But if you've got if you can also express a powerful theme through the plot, so it's not heavy handed. The audience does not know that they're getting this life affirming this appraising theme in the story. And because if they think that's what they're going to get, they're going to shut down right away. But if if you get it past their defenses, which you do with the plot, it's just it takes what what, however poppier that story is, and it magnifies it least double and probably more. Now, let me give you an example. Example I love to use is, is the Dark Knight, in my opinion, the greatest superhero movie ever made. And I would challenge anybody to come up with one that's better. I don't just mean that's fun. I don't just mean the only one,

Alex Ferrari
the only one that I can think of, if you will, because you've thrown the challenge down, john. So I have to say, Logan, is probably in the top five with Dark Knight. I do agree with you that Dark Knight is yes. And for the same reason, for the same reason, because it's a superhero movie with theme, with a lot of themes, a lot of theme, but it's done beautifully. It's done beautifully, truly through the plot of the story. But for me, the reason that dark night is even greater is I think the The main characters more complex, Batman is a more complex character. In fact, I think he's the most complex superhero there that's ever been written. And that goes all the way back to the original comics. But it's also the ambition of the theme in The Dark Knight is greater than and low. In The Dark Knight, he really questions the whole concept of the superhero. Because the super superhero is essentially the religion of it is a religion, it is the superhero religion, it is the idea of that superheroes can save us. Now, what the Dark Knight then does thematic is says, Is that really a good idea? Isn't it better? Instead of putting all of our faith in some superhero or outside force? That is going to come in and save the day for us? Wouldn't it be better if we all decided we're going to get in and solve the problem ourselves and working together? And what he does is he sets it up with this great character. comparison. Have you got the Dark Knight? You got the white knight? Who's the prosecutor usually starts off with the white knight. And then you got the Joker who is at the other extreme he is he has darkness persona flaw is our narky. Right.

John Truby
Right, exactly. And so and what they what will the entire plot then is set up to express the theme of is it good for us to have a Savior? And the way they do it is the plot is totally driven by the Joker. And the plot is quite brilliant. In fact, if anything, there's too much plot, there's it de Nolan's are the only people in the world that I would say they wait too much. That's not a problem, right? Can't have too much plot. But, but what they do is they The plot is driven by the Joker, and it's really a sequence of challenges. They become more and more complex that the Joker gives to Batman to solve. And what they by complex, I mean, morally complex, they put Batman in a more and more difficult comp, moral position. So for example, we're going to say you're going to save your girlfriend, and you're going to save the white knight, the prosecutor, until they end with the biggest moral challenge of all, where he does the classic Prisoner's Dilemma with the two ships, you know, right? You blow or do you blow them up, because you think they're gonna blow you up? And so it's really on so many levels. It's brilliant. But my point is, it's because that the plot is in service to this larger theme that it had the kind not just is why it's so great. It's why it's so popular. And this is what always surprises people. People think that theme is theme versus popularity. No. It's only theme versus popularity, if you don't know how to express the light. If you do if you express themes through the dialogue, by preaching and saying, okay, here's what you need to learn from our money. No, that's not going to work and people are going to avoid it like crazy. But if you express that plot, like the dark mind, where you're doing it through the characters, the character opposition and the plot sequence, then the audience just goes away thinking that's just the greatest thing I've ever seen. That's That's why you know, I mean, this question about theme is in the primary plot is people just don't have to do it. They don't do it. Because there's so many techniques involve theme. The problem is, they don't know how important it is.

Alex Ferrari
Now, I want to ask you this because I'm fascinated by the movie Avatar. Now avatar, up until recently, and still arguably with with, you know, with the inflation is the biggest movie of all time. It has a very strong, some say overbearing theme. Actually a bunch of themes layered on top of each other. What made that film so because it's so popular, because yes, there was 3d and there was amazing visual effects. But we've seen amazing visual effects before and they movies have died. And that what is it about that film that caught the tension or the the fantasy of of the pop of the world at such a level that it took you a decade, almost four films Even an Avengers endgame barely creeped over 10 years later. You know, Disney, like pushed it out one more time to get the extra two or 3 million and needed to just say were the biggest movie of all time, even though you know, it wasn't. But So how? What's your what's your take on that film?

John Truby
Well, again, as you asked me this question right at this time, because I think avatar is such an important film. And it is often so misunderstood. I did an entire class on like an hour and a half class just on the techniques of avatar, and why it works. And so, you know, I'm not gonna take up all the time,

Alex Ferrari
though, I'm sure I'm sure the audience would be fascinated. Maybe we can do another episode just on avatar, but

John Truby
because I I can do it very easily. Having done it all right. But the avatar, James Cameron is, in my opinion, the best popular storyteller in film, popular storytelling. And to a lot of people, that's kind of that's kind of thing praise. That's, that's, you know, oh, yeah, he's, you know, nobody's going to criticize him for writing a great film. Or say that he wrote a great film. But those people would be quite wrong. Because that those talents, those skills are very complicated. They're very advanced. And he knows exactly what he's doing, beginning with how he combines his young. This guy is the ultimate genre Movie Maker. And he always combines the same three, which are myth, action, and loves store. And that combination, that combination genres, it doesn't get more popular than that.

Alex Ferrari
I'm going back down to his filmography, and I'm going, yep, that's there. Yep, that's there. Yeah, yeah. Even Terminator, from terminator terminator to the abyss. True Lies, Titanic, I mean, other than Parana, too, but we don't count them.

John Truby
And it's important to start with the genres because the genres of the story forms, and in almost all my work over the last 30 years has been really focused on jobs. How do each of the genres work? What are the genre beats for each form? And then how do you mix them? Because almost nothing now is a single genre. And it hasn't been for at least 20 years, probably more like 30. And what brought it on was Star Wars, Star Wars was the first really film to really mix multiple genres. And you see in the difference from, from jaws to Star Wars, I think jaws was came out in 7675,

Alex Ferrari
jaws and 76. And then seven Star Wars right after,

John Truby
right? You have everything before Star Wars, everything after Star Wars. jaws is a single genre, story, source, right? Star Wars has multiple genres. And once that came out, and people saw the studio saw how popular multiple genres were for a worldwide audience, it's been that way ever since. So and we were talking earlier about blockbuster. I mentioned, first of all, desire, and then the opposition setup. Third one is mixing genres, multiple genres. And in that data rescue worksheet, I have a place where people can tell me at least, at least two and preferably three genres that are going to make up your story. Because what you're doing with the audience is you're saying, I'm going to sell you two for the price of one, I'm going to say you three for the price of one. And story in store returns, what it does is, whatever beats you have for one genre, now you add a second, you add a third, you're getting incredible density of story beats. And what does that translate? plot? It's giving you great plot, it's giving you narrative drive, all these things we talked about earlier,

Alex Ferrari
because of you. So if you have a love story, that's a certain amount of beats that have to happen in that if you have an action, there's a certain amount of beats that happen after that if there's myth, there's a certain amount of beats. So just by the nature of combining genre, you're just automatically have to have a more complex plot, purely because you're not just doing Romeo Juliet.

John Truby
Exactly. Exactly. And the one of the nice things about it is is if you know the beats, because you got to know the beats, but if you know the beats is practically doing the job for you, because if you got to hit all of those beats, of course, the trick is going to be how am I going to combine them? How am I going to mix that? How am I going to sequence them and that's easier said than done. But once you do, then you've got a fantastic Have a plot from beginning to end, and you're not going to have that middle that collapses, because you don't know what the main character is supposed to do, then you're going to have to be doing great stuff, every five minutes, you're going to have a major beat happening. So that's the first thing that that you get an avatar, and all the beats for each of those genres is there. You're also getting this very powerful thing. And yes, in certain ways, that is definitely overdone. It's it's heavy handed. But there's enough in the theme that is part of the story structure, that the stuff that's heavy handed, you can kind of, you know, overlook, and you're still getting moved by it. Because you're still what is the basic story? It's the basic story, it's it, it's a battle between a tech society and a nature society. And you're saying, what a tech society gone, you know, without limits, and what it does to nature. And it's a horrible thing to see.

Alex Ferrari
But if you look, but if you look at avatar, I mean, there's probably more than just three, I mean, you're talking about machine versus man, man versus nature or machine versus nature, as well. That's another kind of kind of storyline in that as well. And there's probably a few other layers in there that we can't even see

John Truby
it with it. But those are definite, important lines and elements, those are not actually in this may just be a semantic difference I would not put those are not genres, personal makes a man versus machine or nature versus man, those kind of like types of themes. There's a major thing. However, one of the things I've talked about in the avatar class is that one of the reasons it was so popular is because it it used to what I call to new myth forms. Because what almost all writers in Hollywood have done for the last 50 years, is when they were doing a myth based story. They went back and borrowed from the ancient Greek myths, and they just updated. And that's great stuff, because those are great stories. But what what, what Cameron did was, he took two new myth forms that nobody was playing with. And he made that the basis of this story. And what are those two myths forms? One is ecological myth. And the other is which, which takes in tech versus nature? And how do you balance those out? Obviously, we don't have a balance initially, and it has to be reapply. But the other is a female myth. Because what what happens in this story, on the surface, it's what we have a conflict between a tech culture and a nature culture. But what's really going on under the surface in story terms, is you're getting mail merge mail myth versus female myth, all that military stuff, that that comes in all those guys, those are the Joseph Campbell male myth beats. But what he's doing then is he's putting them into conflict with the femaleness beats, which nobody else has done, nobody else is playing with. Except in the last few years, we've had a few movies that have gotten into the female myth like inside out, like gravity, and their massive hits. And I've always, I always tell my students, you know, if you want to have a good chance of writing a hit film in the next 10 to 20 years, write a female men modernize, modernize that female myth, and it's, it's, you know, half the population. And yet the stories that are about their journey have not been told for 3000 years ever since the you know, male cultures took over from female cultures. So you know, not to get too esoteric here but but that's the kind of thing that's going on in avatar that when we watch it is just really fun story in this you know, these great world and, and the great special effects and so on likable characters, but what's going on under the surface structurally is massive and very revolutionary. And it easily overcomes the obvious, quote mistakes that are made like you know, what is the desire line they want to they want to mining for obtaining, they want to obtain obtaining That's a bit on the nose. It's a bit of a classic MacGuffin. I don't know what it is. But the point is, who cares? It doesn't. It's such a minor mistake, if you will, that the fact he's doing all this other stuff so well and really, so far beyond anybody else working today is is is what is what gives him those kinds of those kinds of numbers that the box hawks didn't ask. Well, he'd only miserably but he did the same thing with Titanic, like Titanic had no reason, at all, rather be a movie to anybody wanted to watch. Yeah, it's like we all know the ending, right? We all know the story.

One of the one of the worst calls I've ever made Alex, one of the worst calls, I heard this was coming out. I said, Oh, what a disaster. This is gonna be a bomb in the fox. I know what's gonna happen $200million? Is he insane? It's crazy. It's crazy. And but what did he do? What did he do? He took a disaster pictures structure, right, which is a kind of action, myth based story. And he added a love story. And what that meant was see the reason that disaster pictures, typically, they'll have a certain audience, but they're not that big, is because it's really a cross cut of various people as they're being destroyed by whatever the disaster, right, right, but we haven't gotten to know any of them well enough to care. And so what does he do? He says, the disaster for the very end of the picture. And the whole three quarters of the movie is the love story about two people who we now really, really care about. And he adds that at the end on to everybody else getting killed. And then we've got a massive Oh, you know, don't forget,

Alex Ferrari
don't forget Now you also have the anticipation of the entire Odyssey Odyssey Odyssey audience knowing what is going to happen, which is a very rare thing, because it's just a story that the entire world knows about. So we all like oh my god, we'd love jack and rosewood, but the ship's gonna sink are they gonna make? So that is an additional layer on top of it as well. I mean, I agree with you. I've been every time James Cameron comes out with someone It was like I go in James I trust like I, I might not understand it. When he's doing it. Like I don't think these next like it's on paper for more avatars, or five more avatars that he's making? are arguably 10 years after the first one like, does it you know, people like does anyone care? It's even relevant. I'm like, in James, I trust I, whatever he's doing.

John Truby
Let me put it this way. Let me put this way. I have a lot more trust in Him being able to extend the avatar series. Sure. In the Star War people have extending their series.

Alex Ferrari
Fair, fair enough. And also, you know, that just like a lot of popular filmmakers and storytellers in general, from Spielberg, to Hitchcock, to King, even Stephen King, they aren't given the respect that they're there. Do you know when Spielberg was hitting, you know, home run after home run in the late 70s, early 80s. He was just like, I mean, he there was just a run, and King as well. And Hitchcock, but they were never he's popular. It's popular only later in their careers to people go back and go, you know, what, this guy's kind of a kind of a genius.

John Truby
Yeah, yeah. Well, there's a thing. We know, in the back of our mind, we associate popularity equals mediocre. Right? Like Paul, like Paul Graham, it's cool. It's neither really good. It's not really bad. You don't you don't get that kind of popular success by being really embarrassingly bad. No, is just middle of the road. But in fact, there are some and most popular stuff is middle of the road. But there are some who are able to and I talked about it, this is an actual technique, which is to transcend the genre, right. And it's something you actually do in the script, which kicks it up from what everybody else is doing in that genre. And it's and it's, it's doing something that really haven't seen before. We've seen it very rarely. And basically what they're doing is they're taking the traditional beats, and they're twisting them, and resequencing in some cases, so that even though it's the same general structure, it's for example, a detective story. It's still a detective story. But the way they did the detective story I've never seen before, so it's filled with surprises. And this is one in my opinion, one of the keys if not the most important I won't say rule because I don't like that word, but but It's pretty damn close to a rule, which is that your best chance of success as a screenwriter or in any medium of storytelling is specialize in one genre. become the best at that form. Mix it with two or three other forms. And transcending, do it do the beats in a unique way that we've never seen. And if you do that, you get the combination rare combination of it's really popular. And it's highly respected, critical.

Alex Ferrari
It's like, like Pulp Fiction, like Pulp Fiction, like full solution, or recently, for example, I would just mention the detective for knives out.

John Truby
Yeah. The whodunit. Like, when was the last time we saw who done it like clue? Yeah, it doesn't exactly it does not exist in the movies anymore. It does not. The last one we had was certainly the orangutan express the Orient Express came out a little bit ago. But in terms of like an original, an original, you're going back to LA confidential.

Yeah, you're right. Yeah, it is a transcendent. But in the basically, the detective form does not exist in the movies, it's all in television, all in television. And yet, he was able to do it in such a unique way that we want to, you know, leave home, leave all the detective possibilities we have on the TV, and actually go to the theater, watch it. I mean, that was really quite original and ingenious some of the things that he was doing. But that's what you want to do whatever your form is, you need to specialize, so you can master the beats, you can't twist the beats until you've mastered them in the first place. And by the way, this brings up another pet peeve of mine, one of the things I drives me absolutely nuts is why here, you know, on these on these Facebook posts or screenwriting places, they say, you know, you you have to, to learn the rules to great. And you know, the implication is that the ideal is to not have follow the rules, right? Not not follow any rules, because, because that stunts creativity, right? Well, on the surface that makes total sense. It's complete nonsense. Because what those rules are, what I always say is, well, if it's a good rule, you probably want to follow it. If it's a bad rule, No, you don't. But for example, if I'm, if I'm walking on the top of a mountain, and there's a rule that if you step off of the mountain, you're gonna fall to your death. You don't want to break that rule, right? Same thing goes for story, it was story, you know, there are certain things that that you want to do, you want an active main character driving the story, you want to have a single main character who can focus the conflict and so on. You want other opponents who can create a, a density of attack, and so on and so forth. There are certain rules are really useful. And this is the way genre works is well, those beats are rules, those are, those are beats that must be there, or it's not the form. If you don't have a first kiss, in your love story, you're dead. But is it what got that then you have to do it in a unique way.

Alex Ferrari
But isn't isn't it true though, like I've seen this happen with with directors with with screenwriters, they're so invested in showing that they do not adhere to these rules, that they'll go out on the limb to do something that's so outside the box of rules, and it doesn't work. So it's the equivalent of me going up or like a happy Madison. If you remember that one with Adam Sandler where he was the golfer. He played golf with a hockey stick. Because he that's the way he knew how to do it, and it worked for him. But generally speaking, if I show up to a golf golf course, and I'm going to drive with a hockey stick, because it's not the rule, right? I'm not going to make it there's certain things in a golf swing and a golf club. There's certain basics that you need to do. Now once you're Tiger Woods, and you've swung that if you want to bring out a hockey stick, I'm gonna watch Tiger Woods, the hockey stick and see how it works out.

John Truby
But but he's not going to do it if he's trying to win that tournament. That's the thing is right, the rules are there because they work. And the point is not to be slaved to the rule. And that's why we say learn the beats of the genre. But don't break those beats don't don't fail to don't say oh, I'm beat All these beats, I don't have to have them at all. No. Do the beats in a way we haven't seen before like cameras. Like canon. Exactly. Exactly. So it but but but this thing about genres and how you deal with genres. That's the game. That's the ballgame. Now, in every medium in pot and worldwide storage,

Alex Ferrari
I just never I've just never again once again, john, you've made me think about store in a completely unique way because I on a on a visceral level, I understood what you meant. But I never consciously thought about combining genre before but like, like, Yeah, he's right. It's an action mixed with myth mixed with a love story. And he's done it all his career. And he's been extremely successful. And with even What is the secret agent True Lies, you know, story, which, again, on paper, it sounds like, it doesn't sound like okay, it does. But when you start looking at a movie, like True Lies, or the Abyss even I mean, it's it's a love story. At the end of the day, the Abyss is a love story that happens to have sci fi and aliens and some cool action in it. And then there's and then he also don't forget, he always throws the technical, right, you know, promise over it, which a lot of screenwriters don't have that capability because they don't have a James Cameron in there. So he's a very unique style filmmaker as a whole package. It's it's just nobody, not really Scott, not Nolan, not Fincher, not Kubrick, there's just nobody that's had his combination of stuff and how he does it. Also keep in mind, keep in mind is so often forgotten. And I'm a huge believer in screenwriter as all true. I do not believe I think the director, auteur theory is one of the stupidest things that anybody ever came up with. And every time I teach my class in Paris, I've made it a point to tell them where it came from, of course, you know, and it's spread here. But, but, you know, some of the directors you mentioned, write their material, but some don't. And the thing about Cameron, which is why he's been able to get this consistency of not only quality, but consistency of popularity, is that he's always a co writer. And, and, and or, or the only way. And what that allows him to do is he's coming. He's creating it from the structural position, when director comes on to it, the stroke, yeah, you can change certain things. But the structure is there, you're not going to be messing with that. Unless you want massive cost overruns. So that's why I always look, I was looking at the screenplay, even though it's not fashionable, you know, they everybody else likes to throw around their directors. But to me, it's the unknown screenwriter, or writer, director, that is really where you need to look at for a what are the techniques, why this thing is working? And then and then be wired? Why is this person so good at where what is their skill level? and Cameron is just consistently done it over? Over years and years and years since our career over decades? Yeah, over decades of work. Now, I wanted to touch upon the villain a little bit and how to really write a really good villain and I love to use because we've spoke about him earlier. And I think there's just such it's such a wonderful teaching tool, the Joker and Batman, specifically in The Dark Knight, I just don't think that there's been in recent history, a villain written so beautifully. And it's so perfect for that hero. You throw the Joker in avatar, not so much. It doesn't work because he's not designed for that world. But because of the complete he's literally the mirror. The mirror image of Batman and that's what a good villain should be. Correct?

John Truby
Yes. Well, the question is, what does that mean? Yes, right. But what does that mean? And, and yes, I agree. Joe is one of the all time great opponents in movie history. Certainly it is. I would say one of the two keys for my opinion that it is the best superhero ever made. One being the fact that the original main character is got so much he's not super he's not this Superman type of character. He is a human being who is deeply flawed and trouble, but before you with that, you can't do anything else.

Alex Ferrari
But can I stop you for one second? Is Batman that amazing of a character and superhero without a joker?

John Truby
Yes, he is okay. But he cannot get to that level. He gets he gets to his highest level, because of like with it because of the joke. But the original source material, the reason that any Batman movie is going to be better than any Superman movie is because the original main character is human. And he his, his his flaws, is, is what the, what I call the the first of the seven major structural steps, the weakness need. He's got so much weakness need. And so much goes so much stuff that is that has been troubling him for his whole life, that anytime he goes into a story, you're automatically in 100 yard dash, you're at the 50 yard line. I mean, it's a tremendous advantage. But having said that, no, he cannot get to the heights of a character without the Joker because no talk about this anatomy, the story is the the opponent is probably the most important single element in a story. Because the opponent is what causes the hero to change. Without the attack of the opponent, the hero is not motivated to change, they're not motivated to look at the great internal flaw that starts the whole story and say, Hey, this isn't working for me, I'm getting my clock cleaned by this opponent. And the only way I'm going to beat him is if I deal with what's really the problem here. So that's number one. And always stay in the narrative story, the hero learns through the pump. And that's an incredibly important principle and story right there. Um, another key principle is that the hero is only as good as the as the person he fights. Because, and I always use the analogy of a tennis match or, or a game of sport, which is that each character drives the other to greatness is because of the conflict between them that each is forced to dictate not just one, not just the hero, each is forced to dig down and come up with their best stuff. And then they make that punch, and then you get the Counter Punch. And, and it's it's testing each of them to their, their fullest capability. So that when you get character change at the end for the hero, and really great stories, you're also going to get character change for the pump. Now, the you look at the Joker, the Joker is very misunderstood, in my opinion. Most when it came out, most most critics talked about him as this newest, you know, he had nothing of value. Not so he he, he very definitely has a set a value system. But it's just a very dark valley. And his point of view, he has a different point of view.

Right. And in fact, the entire movie is a thought experiment conducted by the Joker to prove his view of humanity, which is humans are simply animals with a thin veneer of civilization, and you put them in the slightest bit of trouble. And that veneer is going to get washed away. And you're going to see what they really are, which is they're just they're gonna, they're gonna eat you alive. And so that's why he gives that man these increasing moral challenges because he's trying to prove it. And to me, the, the, you know, the brilliance of the prisoner's dilemma thing with the ships at the end is just I mean, all of the all time great beats the big problem I have with it, and the biggest problem I have with the whole movie, I didn't believe that decision. I

Alex Ferrari
feel optimistic. It was too optimistic.

John Truby
Yeah, it's telling me that I ship full of regular people versus a ship of criminals, murderers and so on, that they are not going to blow up the criminal ship before the criminal ship can blow them up. It's not believable To me, it's not believable. But having said that, having said that, the construction of it and the fact that the Joker drives the store is one of the keys to the success of this thing. And it's a technique of you know, I talked before about plot is the biggest problem that writers have. And that's because there are more skills and techniques that go into plot than all the other writing skills combined. And people just don't know what they are and In my opinion, the single most important plot technique of all, is, start with your poem. Because what a plot really is. So we think of plots is one of the great misconceptions, or one of the things I've been working on over the last few years, in trying to come up with a way to explain plot to people that they could actually use, because it's so hard to get is that plot we think of plot is the sequence of actions that the hero takes in going after the goal. And, and that is on the surface, what is what is happening. And that's why we always talk about plot is what happens next? Well, except the question is, the real question is, what causes what happens next. And what causes what happens next is the main opponent. And that's why what a plot really is, is a sequence of actions, covering the entire story that the opponent comes up with, to put the hero in the greatest amount of trouble. If you think of plot that way. All of a sudden, how to plot your story will may not just suddenly come to you fully blown. But you're about 50% there. That's how important that concept is.

Alex Ferrari
But so as I never thought about this, but you're after thinking about it, you're right that the Dark Knight, Batman is not the one driving this show. Batman's not doesn't have a need that needs to be fulfilled. The Joker has his thesis he needs fulfilled, and everybody around him is, is addressing the Joker's craziness. So it's not a Batman does eventually change towards the end, obviously, and he makes that sacrifice if he does all the things that he does. But he's just constantly reacting to the Joker, the Joker is the spine of the movie, which is also a unique, which is also unique. It's it's not many popular films that have the villain as the as the driving factor.

John Truby
No. And and and, and it appears on the surface. to contradict what I said earlier, we always want to active hero. Well, Batman is quite apt, oh, fairy, it's just is just you know, and we are tracking his actions in trying to catch the opponent. So in that sense, we could say that the plot is the actions Batman takes to catch the Joker. And so he's very active in that sense. But the key to plot is that this sequence of actions that the opponent is taking, are mostly under the surface. We don't see them, and the hero doesn't see. And that's why we get reveals. That's why we get surprised, is because what is this what is a reveal. And plot is based on two major things conflict and movies. What does it reveal reveal is basically where the hero in the audience realize the move of the opponent. Oh, they just pulled that. I didn't know that. That's going to cause me a big problem. And now I have to deal with. That's a review. So but the point is that you want to start from the point of view of the opponent, how to come up with a sequence of actions they're going to use to defeat the hero and then hide most of them. And then the sequence of the story is the hero going after his goal discovering various things that his opponent is doing to try to keep him from getting if you think if you use that sequence, that process writing process, you're 100 times better off than if you do it the normal way which is here's my hero there's my goal. He's going to take action one and action to action three action for someone it doesn't work.

Alex Ferrari
So basically, without Pepsi there is no coke without Microsoft there is no Mac. Yes, yes. Because you know Coke is only coke because it had a Pepsi to fight. If it had an RC cola to fight it wouldn't work. This wasnot a great story. Not a good story you need you know you needed the literacy. You needed vanderbilts to go against Rockefeller you needed you needed those you need the giant industries you know that those those two in there but at the end of the day, it's two characters to have to battle it out. That's really good versus bad and has in it that's why I always tell always tell writers never think your opponent is two separate characters. Yes, they are separate two sides. But in fact, it is the relationship between them is the most important relationship in the entire story. And that's what you constantly want to be aware of is the relationship between the two of them, and how it goes back and forth, as each one gets the upper hand. So then, so Okay, so Batman Begins, if we're gonna if we could, we could, because I'm a huge Nolan fan. And I do agree with you. Sometimes he has so much plot. Because sometimes you just like, I can't, I can't just blow something up, Chris. I can't think that hard, right. I mean, inception, you're just like, what's going on? I don't know what's going on. But this is a fun ride. But so Batman Begins. You know, he basically revamped the entire Batman myth. And he did it in a beautiful way. And a lot when I saw Batman Begins, I was like, well, this is the best superhero movie ever made. Then the Dark Knight showed up and was like, Oh, my God, this is just a completely different level, then Batman, Dark Knight Rises shows up. And arguably the weakest of the three be yet.

I'll put it up against almost a lot of other superheroes. So what made that film not work nearly as well as the Dark Knight? Yeah. One of the great questions. Great questions. I get It's good.

John Truby
It's good. I always really good, it's good and good. But it's not as good as the other two. And it's not, it's not as good as he wanted to be. I because it was a I was I'm such a fan of his and such a fan of the the, you know, the two movies that came before it. I did a breakdown of that film. So my website troubie.com. And where I talked about, how could this go wrong? And in my opinion, first of all, it's because it is too ambitious. It's he tried to he basically, he went into it saying, okay, I've just done the dark mind. He

Alex Ferrari
made the Godfather. He was trying to make the Godfather two movies, right? Yeah.

John Truby
I've just done on that love. Sure. How do I top that? And in my opinion, in trying to top it, it was so ambitious. It's basically an analysis of a revolution in a society. How do you you know, in in the dark night, you have the problem of a Savior. But the society is still pretty much where it's at, you know, Batman takes the hit, so that they won't rely too much on a savior. And he'll he'll be the bad guy. So we don't get into this superhero cult, okay, but it's still basically the same society. Well, in The Dark Knight Rises, he's trying to say, Okay, how do we actually create a greater society? This is the classic question of science fiction. But he's trying to do it in the crime fantasy, combination genre, super hard to do. But if you're looking at, there's a number of beats from the French Revolution. And what the breakdown way of what I'm talking about is, it always take it down to the basic structure, mission beginning, you get those seven steps, it's really hard to screw it up. And in my opinion, he put so much superstructure in terms of the ambitions and what he was trying to tell him that story on a desire line, could not handle it. And I think I talked about it in the breakdown is a bridge too far.

Alex Ferrari
He just was a little too ambitious slightly, but he's still late, but he's still landed in places that most filmmakers and screenwriters would kill to do.

John Truby
Yeah, but the problem is, without an urgent desire line, tracking the entire story, right? Because you'd have a large chunk where as I recall, I haven't seen it since it's a mount. It just it just basically, exactly, there's a note bizarrely, and it sits there, there's no urgency at all. And when you don't have the spine at the base, the whole superstructure collapses, and is just, it's spinning its wheels, whereas, you know, what they sometimes do is plot for plot sake. And, and that's where that big theme, that ambitious theme, without the process, excuse me without the the plot and the structure underneath it, to drive it. Then it becomes over the top it becomes a little on the nose, and you don't get any story or urgency. You don't get any narrative drive. And so it gets really Tired

Alex Ferrari
yeah and i if i remember the movie correctly there was a moment when basically when Batman is thrown into the into the pit with a broken back after a battle Bane Yeah, it the story just sits there for about 20 to 25 minutes everyone's kind of walking around but Gotham he's taken over, it's a few weeks the cops are trapped underneath it. Like it's there's nothing to it there's there is no draw and then it picks up again.

John Truby
But there is actually the point. It's one of the, because I couldn't remember that. But yeah, rock is back. He's in the back, he's in the pit. He's not doing anything, the movie is not doing anything.

Alex Ferrari
Right. And and. And Bane isn't a bad villain. He's actually a very well written and good and obviously well performed villain, but and he has a very specific and that's the one thing that all the villains actually had, even from Batman Begins, they all have very specific points of view. And Bane. Bane had a similar idea that the Joker wanted, but it's just his like, he believes that this is going to happen. And this is my thesis, and I'm going to prove to you Batman, that this is my thesis. Yeah, you know,

John Truby
now I know that's a really good at opponents, they're really good at that. Because they know that's the trick to doing driving the plot that they want to drive. But but also just in terms of character sense, was always push is. In fact, I make the case that even using the term villain is a problem for a lot of writers. Because when we think of villain, we think of this very simplistic, evil characteristic of the mustache, right? Yeah, and, and, and it's so important, I always try to push writers make the main opponent as complex and characters your role. Because that is going to give you benefits, open down the line in not just in terms of character in terms of the emotion that the audience has for the story. And especially in terms of plot. It's just, it's just super cool.

Alex Ferrari
Yeah, I mean, and if you look at someone like you know, one of my favorite films of all time, I've spoken about many times on the show, Shawshank I mean, the villain of the the warden, and the end, and he had like three major villains the the prisoner, the the main, the main guard, and the and the warden is the ultimate villain. I mean, I think that's why it's so satisfying when Andy finally breaks free. And then and then just screws everybody along the way. It was such a brilliantly written story. I mean, it really is truly in love. Well done. Yeah, it is. It is probably one of the most perfect scripts I've ever read and one of the most perfect films ever seen. But I also would argue going back to Batman, that Batman Begins could be the Godfather where Dark Knights godfather to I could argue that. Yeah.

John Truby
Where I would disagree with us on the Godfather ranking. I feel that you know that you look at these charts. Yeah. Geez. You know, that godfather near the top godfather to a little higher than godfather three. I just saw that chart fly through Facebook. It was like all the trilogies and yeah, and to be fair, it is my contention is godfather two is not the movie The Godfather. One is why because every beat in godfather two was first done in godfather one,

Alex Ferrari
right without it's the foundation.

John Truby
It's the foundation. But every single story beat throughout the plot is in godfather one, the differences then godfather two, they get that cross cut structure. Also, comparing the gangsters you comparing the gangsters with the different generations. But But in terms of the, you know, my anatomy story, they do a extensive breakdown of the Godfather. And it was just one of those beautifully written, yes, it's great direction. So but I look at it from the point of view of storytelling of writing a screen a couple semesters, at every level, from structure through dialogue, every level never been done better. And in my opinion, it also tend to give a little bit more credit. Just as when, you know like when they're assigning credit in a screenplay. The original writer to me is always gets gets most of the credit. Because the work of creating all of those beats is much harder than it is to adjust them and polish right and polish. And so to me, even though the Polish job on godfather two was incredible that that all the beats are writing godfather one. And, you know, it's interesting, I talked about it in the class that the Godfather two was affected how he wrote godfather two was affected by the response that godfather one guy, because it didn't get the response he thought it would get if there was going to be fired every other day. That was before he even started Yes. shooting it in terms of the audience response to the ending of the story. Yeah, he what he thought structurally that made him Mario Puzo had done is create a character who even though he's become the new Godfather, that morally, he's become the devil. And the whole thing is structured to the connection with making the equation of Michael equals or godfather equals devil. And, and so you wanted to get something is very difficult to pull off for a writer in any meeting, which is a split, ending for the character. Whereas on one level, they have succeeded, succeeded tremendously. On the other level internally, they have fallen and failed. And all he got was people saying he succeeded. Isn't it great that he blew away or the five heads the families, with his brother in law and so on? Isn't that great, they didn't see the moral decline. And that heavily affected how he then wrote godfather two, to make Michael a much darker character. And much more, not somebody we're going to root for so much as some way that we see that this is a guy who is becoming more and more corrupt.

Alex Ferrari
So So basically, without Star Wars, there is no empire strikes back as far as it being that good and without Batman Begins, arguably, there's no Dark Knight. Yeah, you need the first. Yeah, in order to build build upon you can't come out the gate with Empire Strikes Back, it doesn't have the gravitas? Well, it's the same thing. If you want to go back to endgame. You can't have Avengers endgame without the 10 years of films. That's right, that built up those characters

John Truby
to get into that crescendo there in terms of to get a concluding film like that in a series. It's all based on what you did before. Yeah, all the setup, the setup work that they do in Marvel movies, songs. Amazing. Amazing. And that's why that you know, because they you've got this bank of characters, and they're great characters and great superhero characters. But it's obviously it's going to be in how you have them interact. And really, there's, it's quite an interesting story challenge that they have a Marvel, which is, what do you do with superheroes, because for the most part, they can die. And, and we know there are exceptions to that, which I won't mention, but but the point is, if they're superheroes, and they don't have any real physical Jeopardy, you know, I always laugh at the fights in superhero movies, because, you know, one guy hits the other guy with a punch that knocks him through three buildings. But you know, he shakes his head like a cartoon and then gets up and goes back to the fight. It's like, you know, very quickly you realize, hey, there's nothing's gonna happen in this fight.

Alex Ferrari
That's why Superman, that's why Superman so difficult to get behind.

John Truby
Exactly, exactly. But but so the trick the way Marvel handles is how they, they interweave and interconnect all the films of the separate ones. So that when they get them all together, in the, you know, the Avengers, or the Avengers, and all of the all, you know, the two, the two sides that the villain team versus our hero, where you're basically just taking the heavyweight fight and you're kicking it up another 10 notches, because you're getting one All Star team against another All Star team. It's all been set up, you know, years and years before with the other films. And it that's the payoff is so great.

Alex Ferrari
That's good. Like, that's what sports are like. It's the Yankees versus the Yankees were always the great villains. If you don't live in New York, if you're in New York, they're the heroes but the Yankees in the in the 50s in the 40s in the 50s. They were they were just dominating and the bulls were that in the 90s and, and LeBron James is that and, and so on. So it there's Oh, there is that, but it takes time to build that. But I have to I have to ask you this because I'm sure my audience wants to know since we've since we've been bringing it up. I've talked about this at nauseum, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. We understand that wide Marvel works. Can you discuss and dissect why DC doesn't. And why they've had so much trouble in the DC Universe, which arguably has some of the greatest superheroes of all time. They're easily the most well known. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are much more well known than anybody other than maybe Spider Man in the Marvel Universe prior to launching of the Marvel MCU back in the day. So why is it so difficult? What what happened at DC that it's taken them, it's still like they have some one offs here and there that are good, but they've not been able to create what Marvel has.

John Truby
No. And this is a big subject. And I can't say that I'm an expert on it, because I am not a fan for the most part, the DC universe

Alex Ferrari
that says volumes right there.

John Truby
But But then again, you know, I don't, because of that basic superhero problem in superhero storytelling, I'm not as big a fan of the Marvel universe as some people are. Although I totally agree with you about that the final film is the final Avengers, and a one we're just before. But in terms of their certain one off, DC films, DC comic films that are really good Wonder Woman, I thought was excellent, was wonderful. Um, and the Batman films, obviously in the hands of the Nolan brothers, yeah, or the best you get. But the problem that the problem comes in, how do you combine them into like the Justice League? It's the same thing. You're basically it's for storytellers is the problem, how you tell a story about an all star team. And there's lots of problems with all star teams. Because among them, first of all, if you're going to have an all star team, you got to have all star opposition team. And that means you got to establish all those characters. And you got to do that all that work in previous films. So that it's not just a, you know, five guys with different costumes on that supposedly, each has a different major superpower. And then we're supposed to get that's going to be really good conflict and drama. No, that's not going to do it. That's not what it's about. But if you notice, what to me is the real key to what Marvel has done, besides one time better setting up this stuff in previous films, which was they? I believe it was, wasn't a JJ Abrams, they brought in one of those wouldn't when they started to, they started to put the the Marvel characters in conflict with each other.

Alex Ferrari
I think dress Wheaton.

John Truby
Yeah, that's right. I knew was a TV guy was a TV guy. And that That, to me is the key right there. Because what they did is they brought it in, they brought in the knowledge of television, and television, I don't know if we talked about this last time, television is so far advanced, above film, right now, it has been for 20 years is a meeting. And there's various reasons for it that we don't have time to go into. But one of the things that they do that is based on is because they're doing an ongoing series. They know that the real juice of the story, when you sustain the story is, you don't bring in a new opponent every week, what you do in a police show or detective show, character that we don't even get to know know, you put the main characters of the show in opposition. That's where the conflicts got to comprehend. Because there's a character we care about those two characters we meet and know every week. So what they did was they figured out a way even though these are superheroes figured out a way to put them to have them fight amongst themselves. And all of a sudden, you get the fact that we care about these characters. We know these characters as human beings, not just superheroes, but also we're getting the conflict driven, and building based on characters, the characters we love, then typically at the end, they bring in the opposing team that gives us the big battle that gives us all the fireworks and so on and so forth. And we capo cap off the story, but was the trip to the whole story was all the conflict between the heroes that led up to And to me, that's what they're really good.

Alex Ferrari
And also, I think the biggest thing and I've said this a lot before too is that, that the Marvel universe of characters, they're all kind of based, for lack of a better word, they all have vulnerabilities, generally speaking, there's, they all have vulnerabilities, they all can get hurt. Yeah, even Iron Man, even even Thor who's a he's the only God in the Marvel Universe, where in the DC Universe, they're essentially all gods. You've got other than Batman, who, honestly is a marvel. He's a Marvel character who got the DC Universe because he's much more Marvel than anything else. But you got Superman, you got Wonder Woman, you got Green Lantern, you got the flash, these are God to Aquaman they're all gods and when you and that's the problem when you write for Gods if you can't kill them, or kill, fundamental problem right there, that's why Superman movies are so difficult, right? And you know I mentioned earlier we'll be talking about the seven major structure. So first step is weakness knee, if that's a God, they don't have a weakness name. If they don't have a vulnerability, you don't have a story. Because the whole story is designed to solve that we're too poor to test that weakness. And so and yeah, and that's why when when I heard that, that you're gonna have Batman versus Superman, that this is the stupidest idea you could possibly do, then notice they're trying to do what Marvel's do. They're trying to create conflict among the superheroes. But one is that God one is superhuman, the other is a human being. It's not even a contest, you would take about five seconds, not even

it's like, my wife who's not a superhero fan when she heard like Batman vs. Superman, that's ridiculous. Superman would kill him in five seconds. Literally, that's what she's not a fan. I'm

John Truby
like, yeah, that's why it's not gonna work. I guarantee you, every person in America, when they heard that movie was coming out, the very first thought they had was, that's gonna take five seconds.

Alex Ferrari
And it took them how long it took him, like two hours to get to the fight. And the fight lasted eight minutes. Right? And it was just so unsatisfying, is a general like insert a bleak, completely absurd, but going back to God's really quickly though, the Greeks, you know, they figured out the God thing.pretty well. I mean, if you go back to Zeus and Hades and all these, but what they did is they added human elements to all of these gods, you know, Zeus was

John Truby
they were all flawed characters, right? And now, you know, a really important thing to keep in mind is that, that in Greek mythology, those gods are not Gods versus humans. Gods are simply human beings taken to an nth degree. Right. And they're done that to show how humans really All

Alex Ferrari
right, exactly. And that's definitely not what Superman is. So john, I'm going to ask you a few questions that I asked all of my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

John Truby
Man, see what what I tend to do? Because it's so important that people know the genre that they're writing. Okay, that whenever somebody will, what are the screenplays you think are great that you recommend? I always first say, Well, what, what genre are you talking about? But But given that there are 12 1314 major genres that almost all stories are built on? Um, I can give you some examples. For example, example gangster, the Godfather, godfather one and Goodfellas. I put them I put them pretty much on the same level, both brilliant scripts, brilliant scripts. If you talk about crime, are you talking about Usual Suspects? The best.

Alex Ferrari
I'd say they come out of Hollywood in the last 25 years. That was a 90s film. So we're talking about 30 years plus now.

John Truby
Um, and also, if you want to talk about I mean that this this film just blows me away. And the writing on it is so great. It's also I think, in the crime. So I'd call it a transcendent Crime Story, which is in group.

Alex Ferrari
Oh, yeah. And Bruce? Yeah.

John Truby
Just just absolutely. Um, if you're talking about, you know, fantasy crime, you know, or the myth form. You talking about the dark night? Absolutely. You got to read that script. If you're talking about the action form of going back to a, I've got to go back 60 years and to a different country, and move that every action movie is based on it's the Seven Samurai probably the greatest script ever written, in my opinion, Grace. II, if you're talking about a love story, probably When Harry Met sell, romantic comedy, it doesn't get better than that. That and interesting how any holds any absolutely at that level as well. And going back many years, I'd say probably 80 years to one that is, is I often like to compare To Harry Met Sally, and it's actually Philadelphia Story. Oh, that's another one. Yeah, this is a It Happened One Night, but also great. Um, so I'm just trying to think of some of the other genres detective story. I go with la confidential. Absolutely brilliant script is good as that form gets on film. Now, of course, we want to talk about just great writing, then you gotta go, you gotta go to television. The Best Writing in the world is done on television has been for 20 years. Then looking at shows like Breaking Bad.

Alex Ferrari
Man, the wire

John Truby
higher. The my top five, five greatest shows ever Are those the wire Mad Men Breaking Bad Sopranos and the original Twilight Zone, and the writing the writing a different medium. But especially if you're interested in understanding how plot works and how to extend plot. You got to watch tell you got to look at how they extend, extend plot over multiple episodes to create an entire season.

Alex Ferrari
We should we should have you back just to talk about television one episode, like I said all week, because I know that we've even touched television in this episode. And I know that's something you're pretty passionate about. Yeah, it's, it's over the last almost 10 years now. The one class that I've asked to do most often around the world is television, how to write for television, because that's that's where the quality is. And if any country in the world can write at that level, because it's all in the writing. And the writers are the authors in television, not the director. And when you put the writers in charge, that's what you get to say, sir, to say, Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

John Truby
You got to learn your craft, you got to learn the craft, and you got to especially learn how to plot it's, it's, as they say, it's it is the skill, it is hard to come by because there's very little written on it. In and it's one of the reasons that, that almost all the classes that I've been doing the last few years are focused on that. But But without that ability to tell a story that is going to please the audience, not just be fulfilling to the audience, but please the audience. You're not in the game. And and it is especially given all of the obstacles to screenwriters. You know, much greater obstacles to screenwriters than for example, indie novels, where a lot of writers are going now because they're going 100% chance of getting your workout 100% chance. Right, right. screenwriters who have a point 0001 chance. So that's massive obstacle, the only way you get over that obstacle is you've got to have a plot in a in a genre or multiple genres that is so good, so unique and so surprising that the reader who is the gatekeeper and who is who is mentally what's the word I want? he's mentally programmed to say no. These people job is to say no. The only way you can get past them is to come up with that kind of a story with fabulous plot and incredible narrative draw. And then even a reader will not stop.

Alex Ferrari
And now you also said you had a gift for the tribe today. What What is that gift you are giving us sir?

John Truby
Well, I've put together a worksheet that I think will immediately increase the quality of writers story a lot, just by going through the seven techniques that I've listed there. And I've got a place on the worksheet for them to fill in their own story. And so it's the call to story rescue worksheet. And they can get it by going to www.tv forward slash indie. Indi.

Alex Ferrari
Okay. That would be true. b.com forward slash indie calm. That's right, I'm sure. Yeah. And I'll put that in the show notes, john. So john, and I appreciate that. JOHN, we could keep talking for at least another two hours about the story. And it's, it's we have to have you on more often because it's always a masterclass when you're on. So john, thank you so much for being on the show, and dropping knowledge bombs on the tribe today, man, thank you so much.

John Truby
Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure. You're great to talk to and love to do it anytime.

Alex Ferrari
As promised, that was an epic conversation. Thank you so, so much john, for dropping insanely big knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe today. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 087. And if you want access to that limited time free webinar that john Truby has put together for us, called stories that sell please head over to bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash t our you be Why thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.

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