The Screenwriter’s Workout with Will Hicks
I had a fun chat with our guest today. We hit it off pre-interviewing, geeking out about James Cameron and his latest masterclass, and so much more. On the show this today is Will Hicks who is head of Screenwriting and production at Colorado Film School and an associate professor at the Community College of Aurora.
Will had a start in producing and screenwriting earlier in his career until making the shift to teaching few years in — appreciating more, the elements of studying the craft of form and purity in teaching that he feels are more rewarding.
His commitment to academia led to publishing his book, The Screenwriter’s Workout, which we discuss lengthy in this interview. The Screenwriter’s Workout is a training program consisting of over 75 exercises and activities designed for screenwriters. It aims to help screenwriters explore their creativity and strengthen their storytelling skills.
The book includes exercises on designing dynamic characters, exploring structure, creating stories, redefining conflict, analyzing the work, craft compelling loglines ad discovering interactive screenwriting.
The 2021 Variety Entertainment Impact Report featured Hicks on its Top 50 Film Schools and Instructors from around the world list—revering his 100 plus professional credits nurturing some of the best talents in the country.
Besides talking about Hick’s career teaching screenwriting, we also do some surface character building and storytelling analysis of some famous films and writers. But also, the complexity of writing the end of a sustaining story for TV.
Enjoy this conversation with Will Hicks.
Learn screenwriting from legendary screenwriter James V. Hart (Hook, Contact, Bram Stroker’s Dracula)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Will Hicks – Linkedin
- The Screenwriter’s Workout – Amazon
- Will Hicks – Colorado Film School Bio
- Variety Entertainment Impact Report 2021 – Feature
- Bulletproof Screenplay Script Coverage Service – Get Your Screenplay Covered by Industry Pros
- Arc Studio Pro – #1 Distraction-Free Screenwriting Software
- BPS Presents: Writing for Emotional Impact (FREE AUDIOBOOK)
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- Indie Film Hustle TV (On-Demand Real-World Screenwriting Education)
- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters
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Alex Ferrari 0:14
I like to welcome to the show Will Hicks. How you doing Will?
Will Hicks 0:18
Doing Will? How about you?
Alex Ferrari 0:19
I'm doing very good, my friend. I'm doing very good. We've had a very spirited conversation even before we got started on this thing, because today as of this recording, Mr. James Cameron released a masterclass and I generally don't fond over masterclasses in general, it's some of them are good. Some of them are like, you know, just basically YouTube videos. But there's a handful that are really good, but it's James Cameron. And I was fascinated to see what James Cameron was doing. And I've just been sitting there consuming it. And then we started talking about it and how he's very underrated as not only a filmmaker but as a screenwriter and you actually bring them into your coursework, right?
Will Hicks 1:01
I do. Yeah, there's a bunch of takeaways you can take away from Cameron reminds me of a story he tells about bleeders growing up in Canada and he could cut grass for living and you need to look at these massive lawns and say it's gonna take forever just this huge daunting thing. And so then he would focus on one row at a time one row at a time. And he equated that to filmmaking it just and screenwriting it seems like it's this massive endeavor, but you break it down into its granular level one line at a time one line at a time and suddenly you're you're done not only that just to see and craft alone when you look at I think there's this there's this bit of a perception Hey because you have commercial success you know your work is not artistic and I just disagree with that vehemently. I think you can have you can have both a work that not only reaches a large number of people but can also be an artistic you know it can it has something to say and meaning and just how we construct the scenes are just tight tight beyond tight. Is dialogue worthy of study.
Alex Ferrari 2:12
Yeah, his his story structure I mean, you go back to watching any of his any work early, late mid from the recent as recent as avatar, which is now a decade. Oh, it was it's over 10 years since we've seen it. It's he's he's an insane, insane man and in the best possible way. And now we're gonna get four avatars back to back to back to back. Apparently, so, but you look at a Terminator. Read that script. Read aliens read the abyss. Oh my god. Yeah, this True Lies any of it. And anytime he. I remember when Titanic was coming out. Everyone was like, Oh, he's Oh, this is gonna be a bomb. This is gonna be crazy as hell, which everybody, that's the long story. But I always used to tell people Mike and Cameron I trust, whatever he does. Whatever he does, he hasn't failed me yet. which is rare for a filmmaker because most filmmakers, you know, stumble or didn't hit the mark. And that's okay. That's all artists do that. But for whatever reason, Cameron, every one of his movies, in my eyes at least hits the mark. For me True Lies is exactly what he wanted it to be. And aliens was exactly in Titanic, and then even average and even avatar when avatar was coming out. After everything is done. People were like, Oh, God, blue people. Oh, this is this looks ridiculous. And I'm like, hey, he made a movie about a boat. And we all knew the ending. Okay, yeah, we all knew the ending. And he used it against us in creating tension, which was masterful, is masterful how he did that. It's remarkable. It's so many lessons you can learn. He agree.
Will Hicks 3:49
Oh, absolutely. And it's funny. I think that's the length of Titanic works for it. Because, you know, we've reached we reached the point where in the film, where it's like, Okay, this movie should be ending sometime soon. And there's all these little moments there where jack goes under the water comes back out of the water spoiler.
Alex Ferrari 4:07
And if you haven't seen the song, you guys sorry.
Unknown Speaker 4:10
Yeah, that was kind of my thing. And then like, Oh, we just don't know he didn't. And it starts to use its length to actually, you know, advance the storytelling and then from a structural perspective, you know, talking about story structure, and so forth. It's just like, beautiful. analyze it. And the real knock or the real concern with Titanic back in the day was everybody knew Cameron could do action. He had proven it time and again, so nobody was the studio's weren't worried about that. It was really seen a love story. Now.
Alex Ferrari 4:42
It's all we've seen from him. Thank you. That's my point. every movie, every movie from True Lies, to the Abyss to aliens determining their love stories.
Will Hicks 4:53
That's exactly it. And so, you know, you've seen it you hear that scuttle? really did you not watch the term Terminator.
Alex Ferrari 5:01
Now watch Terminator two, or Terminator two, like their love stories. One is between a man and a wife. The other was the love of a son and a daughter and son in the mother. Like, it's just, I think the abyss. That's all that is, is a love story. Yeah. And so,
Will Hicks 5:18
so that, you know, the whole conventional wisdom is outright whatever. And so yeah, I felt like we'd be in good hands. But in particular, you know, going back to the original Terminator, to me that that was kind of the finest of the two, I get in debates for this all the time, because there's two fans and so forth. But I mean, you're taking that world and bringing it upon us for the first time, in addition to all the heavy lifting you have to do with the story. But yeah, mythologically constructed just just thing of beauty, to watch
Alex Ferrari 5:47
and on. And on a low budget and,
Will Hicks 5:50
and on very low budget. And then of course launches, you know, Terminator two, with much more or much greater resources at hand. But I felt the storytelling in Terminator one was just to me, it was superior. And that's, you know, comparing the two gems and saying, Oh, yeah, this one has more facets. Yes, yeah. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, it was kind of cool. I had a screenplay go into development with the guy who shut down Titanic from the studio. And so, you know, it's kinda like, holy crap. This guy, you know, went down and told James Cameron, you know, you need to shut down. And here he is working with, you know, little me and Ellie. Okay. So that was kind of cool. My my little connection,
Alex Ferrari 6:34
my favorite, my favorite. And then and then we will actually continue with this actual interview. But we should we just started geek out a little bit about Cameron, is that my favorite Cameron story I've ever heard it was actually was in one of the books, one of his books on his career. He was on the Abyss and if anyone has not seen the abyss, not only watch the abyss, but you have to watch the documentary about the Abyss that comes with the DVD or the blu ray because it is arguably one of the best documentaries out there with hearts of darkness about the making of a film you just like see the absolute abuse that that entire crew, including Cameron took to make that was an impossibility. Go shuts down a nuclear power plant or has a with a decommissioned nuclear power plant fills it up with water and builds a set in it. Like he's insane. It's an insane man. And I love him for that. But one day he was uh, he was there was some suits that came in from from the studio going, Hey, what's going on with this is getting a little bit over budget here, which I think it ended up being around 15 million in 1988, which was a pretty big budget with, you know, no major, big stars in it at the time. And Cameron had just come up from a decompression period of about three hours because you have to decom he was underwater, so long. You have to decompress. And he was always the last one. First one in last one out. So he had just got dumped, decompressing came out and this suit starts walking towards him. And he as he gets out, he has this helmet on and these helmets where if you remember watching the movie, the helmets, you could see through, they designed the helmets themselves. So they could shoot and see and listen to dialogue and all this kind of stuff. So as he's taking it off, he sees this guy and he starts to talk to him a second or two about but he knows who he is. And he knows it's the studio. So he takes the helmet and throws it on top of the guy's head. Now without any air you can't breathe. There's no air connected to it. So now it's like he's basically suffocating the dude grabs him by the tie through hangs him over the tank, feet almost dangling. He's just there like this can't breathe. And he says if he falls, the guy's not going to make it. I mean, again, not something you want to do in today's world in any time period. But it's fascinating to hear these mythical stories. He has like if you ever come on my set again, I will kill you. And then he throws him back on they pull the head off. He got out of the car got on the plane. And and that was the last time any suit ever showed up on this set of dates? No, it's great. Yeah, that's called negotiations. That is a that's a James Cameron negotiation. And I've heard he has softened over the years. I mean, I you know, I've heard he's, I knew a lot of people who work with him on Titanic. And I've heard the stories, and also on avatar, but he's still James Cameron. He's always gonna be Jeff King, because he's frustrated because he's, he's playing at a level that most human beings aren't theirs. And I always tell people, if there's one, if there's if he's basically the only human being on the planet, arguably, that could make avatar who could walk into a studio and go, I need 500 million. I'm going to take about three or four years to develop this technology. It's going to be about an IP that no one's ever heard of. I'm creating a new IP and it hopefully it's gonna work. Who else? No one's not getting that Fincher is not getting that Spielberg. Not getting that, that no one else on the planet is going to get that, and then also be able to pull it off. Like, he's one of the few people that could do it. So anyway, that's enough about Mr. Cameron. I just got it. We just got excited about the new master class, I just want to talk about it. But anyway, well, we're here to talk about you and what you do, sir, how did you get into the business.
So kind of a little bit of a long story that goes back all the way to, um, Star Wars, the initial release that film, and I saw it as a little kid, my dad took me to see it, actually, I didn't want to see it. I was added, like, I don't know, some little camp or whatever. And all the kids were talking about, and I hadn't seen it yet. So I'm like, I'm sick of this movie before even seeing it. But my dad had heard about lines. So we took off from work early, and we went to go see this film. And I walked in there, just some little kid from a Podunk town in Georgia, and came out of there, knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And it was his profound an experience. I mean, it's in a theater. And so that sort of set that path in motion. Now, the logical part of me was like, crazy making movies for a living, you might as well might as well told my parents, I wanted to do crack, you know, it's like, oh, I'm gonna grow up, be a crack dealer. You know, it's kind of perceived that way. And, of course, they would be like, Oh, god, he's gonna be living on our couch for the rest of his life. But it's set that in motion, I'd never haven't had anything move me in that way. And so that sort of launched that career a tried a bunch of different things. You know, because cognitively, I'm like, okay, you know, the, the odds of making it in our businesses are slim. But eventually, I just came back to it, like, you know, if I don't try this, but don't do it, I'll regret it for the rest of my life, there's a inch that has to be scratched, I've got to at least if I try and fail, all right, I can deal with that. I can live with that. But I have to try it. And so that's what I did led to film school, at the North Carolina School, the arts at the University of North Carolina School, the art school of filmmaking. And from there, I started working in production, and did a ton of production. And, you know, back then my thought was when movies get made on the set, it was only later that you figure out now movies get made and boardrooms shot, and they get shot on a set. But at the time, you know, I was all about that. While I was pursuing a career in production, I was also pursuing screenwriting kind of trying to do both and balance the two, production career was doing extremely well. So it didn't leave a lot of time for screenwriting. But I was part of a screenwriting Association. And we had this outreach program where we would teach screenwriting classes and so forth. And so I was I was tapped to do that. So I was teaching these screenwriting classes. And one day, my wife made the observation that, you know, when you come home from your classes, you're all like, excited and stoked and really happy. And when you come back from a set, you're kind of awful and miserable. And so you know, of course, when your wife makes a suggestion, it's kind of okay, but listen. But I realized she was on to something, there was something rewarding about teaching that I wasn't getting from making movies, oddly enough, you know, and so I decided to make the career shift there. And it happened actually, I was working on I'm Have you ever saw cabin fever? A raw film?
Sure. Sure. Sure.
Will Hicks 13:33
Yeah. So I was working on that. And there was one more morning where the rest of the crew got wrong directions from locations. So everybody was lost. And I was already there, because my team had been working on the set the previous week, so I know how to get there. And it was just as pre dawn morning, it was freezing cold all the stars in the sky. And nobody was there. And so I had a moment to think and reflect which is rare. When you work in film. Normally, it's next thing next thing next thing you're always slammed and had an epiphany. And in that moment, I was like, You know what, I'm going to shift my career I'm going to I'm going to teach so that that led to led to us sitting here right now.
Alex Ferrari 14:15
There you go.
Will Hicks 14:17
There's guns out.
Alex Ferrari 14:19
Yeah, it's, uh, I came up to the similar. I came up with like, I don't want to be a PA anymore after like, you know, it's three o'clock in the morning and I'm out here. I gotta figure something else out. I'm like, hey, there's a there's a computer at the office that edits called an avid let me learn that air conditioned, maybe some carpal tunnel it I think that'd be a good place for me to make my bones. And that's how I started as well.
Unknown Speaker 14:43
Yeah, it's funny. It's just the different paths that you go down. And I was thankful for all my experiences, because they informed the teaching, obviously. But I was really fascinated by the form. And you know, looking back to that, that day, a long time ago, in a theater far, far away. And looking back to that moment, what I realized is, I couldn't figure out why this movie star wars again, affected me So, and I wanted to know why. And so that sort of set me on that journey. So in academia, at least I get to study the form, and the purity and it's, there's a purity to it, it's kind of like being at the temple. And you don't have to worry about, you know, some, the producers coming through saying, hey, you need to make these changes for reasons that have nothing to do with the story. And it's understandable from their perspective, I get it. But it's no I can study the purity of the craft, and really dive into it.
Alex Ferrari 15:38
And you also you're in good company, because it also launched many other careers, that movie that started it started out, and not to go back to James Cameron. But that was one of the reasons why he jumped in, as well as because after watching Star Wars, it's like, well, I got, I got to make a movie.
Unknown Speaker 15:52
It's, it's, it's funny. So one of the first days of film school when I when I went there, they gathered the incoming class. And so they're, you know, I don't know, 100 of us or so in there. And all the professors were up front, and they asked me what movie inspired you to make movies, you know, and somebody said, you know, the searchers because I was a DS favorite movie, I'm like, Alright, suck up. But somebody said, you know, citizen K, and then somebody said, Star Wars. And then another person said, Star Wars. And they asked a few other people, then another person said, Star Wars. So finally, the professor's you could tell they were fed up, and they just finally said, Alright, how many of you here were inspired by Star Wars to make movies, and two thirds of that class raised their hand? Me among me among them. And I sat there and sort of taken all that in all my holy crap. A I'm like, you know, I'm home. I'm with I'm with my peeps. But B, I realized that was the impact of that movie. It inspired an entire generation of filmmakers. Not only you know, people in general, but actual filmmakers who were somehow touched by that film, and then wanted to go out in pursue this crazy art form of ours.
Alex Ferrari 16:02
And the funny thing is, though, the person who said that, that Citizen Kane inspired them, I think that's absolutely yes. Because I love Citizen Kane. I think it's, you know, it's it's, you know, it's, it's, it's what it is, it's it was groundbreaking film, but there wasn't like a swatch of people like you, and especially your generation in sitting down in, like, Well, I was sitting down watching Citizen Kane the other day, and like, No, you watched it as a game because you were introduced to Citizen Kane factoid. It's not a movie that just kind of pops off and you're like, oh, that black and white film looks fantastic. But no. But the Star Wars.
Unknown Speaker 17:47
Yeah, that was, that was kind of my, my kind of running joke about it. It's like, yeah, you know, what, Kung Fu Panda two was seen by more people than Citizen Kane in 60 years. And it's now does that mean? It's that's a measure of its artistic success? No. But But when you think about it, I mean, if you make a movie, and nobody sees it, it's like, the movie doesn't exist. And those filmmakers, and I'll stick with Kung Fu Panda, too, for whatever. But, you know, they had a chance to share their message to share their art to share what they think with other people. And to me, that's what film is all about. It's about it's about sharing your sensibilities about what you think about the world. And we're able to share it with a lot of different people. And yeah, not a knock on Cain actually, like Kino love.
Alex Ferrari 18:35
Exactly. But it's but it's not one of those films that you're like, there's not there's nobody has, you know, Citizen Kane dolls and action figures and Citizen Kane on the wall. Generally speaking, that's just not one of those films. It is a classic film, and it should be studied. And what he did was remarkable. And Orson Welles is a master and all that kind of stuff, but it's not the movie that inspired a generation to go to the movies to become filmmakers. It's just not but Star Wars. Absolutely launched. God, how many in 2001 was another one, like how many? You know, people saw that and like, well, I got to do that now.
Will Hicks 19:15
Yeah, that's exactly it. And, and I, you know, ironically, you know, it's not that I make or would write science fiction. It was just it moved me somehow. And that was really the kind of the key piece of it. And when you find that films, I try to you know, advise my students that whatever film that is, if it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it somehow touched you don't ever let that movie go. Because it had something in it that said something to you that inspired you no matter what it is. Like my favorite guilty pleasure movies. The old Flash Gordon film, Juju?
Alex Ferrari 19:53
Yeah, of course. Fantastic. Guilty pleasure, man. When you put his hand in that thing is You don't know. Oh my god, it still freaks me out.
Will Hicks 20:04
Yeah. And I usually like, you know, it's kind of, you know, teaching film and stuff you're supposed to like, the other films, shall we say? Yes. And I'm like, Nah, there's something about it. I mean, just, it's the weirdest combination of things ever. You have this Art Deco style from the 30s. You have Queen doing the soundtrack, you know, science fiction film. And somehow, it's like, they give you this recipe for a slushie. It's like, really, you're gonna put all this crap in it, and it comes out. It's like this awesome, slushy. And you never would guess it. So I don't just that one, that one. And there's certain degree of camp, that I really appreciate it.
Alex Ferrari 20:41
Yeah. And as, as film students, or as students of the craft, everyone listening to here is obviously studying the craft and wants to learn more about the craft. There are those films that touch you like Star Wars touch most, you know, huge amount of people. And you know, there's certain films that when you were younger, hit you. But then when you get older, and you watch it again, you're like, yeah, that didn't age. Well. Like I remember watching, I remember watching Bloodsport, and I was like, Oh, my God, this is the greatest film I've ever seen. And then I watched it the other day, I'm like, Oh, this doesn't this does not hold up. So I've now made the choice of not going back to watch full versions of some of these old movies that I have wonderful recollections of, because they they feel, I have a feeling to that, like, oh, that movie meant that to me. But then I go back and watch it, and it ruins it sometimes. So it depends. But some movies transcend Star Wars you can watch right now and completely holds and continue will continue to. And I think as a storytelling tool, or lesson you can learn is George did such an amazing job with the structure of that story using the hero's journey at such a expert level. I mean, he was literally talking to Joseph Campbell, about it, as he was writing it, it's done so surgically, that it will hold forever. Regardless of sometimes maybe some of the visual effects might be a little janky it things like that. But overall, though, it will hold because of the story. And because of the structure, and those characters and how he was able to weave them all together, that they will never I don't think that'll ever age. I mean, it's still my kids watch it now their new generation who've grown up watching really high end visual effects and really high end storytelling, and they're actually much more literate story consumers than you are I was because we didn't have as much content to consume as we were growing up. And it still hits them. It still goes right to the heart of it. And that's something that's you want that magic and your stories and your scripts.
Will Hicks 22:49
Yeah, and I would, I would say that comes that pours out of the characters, pours out of the characters pours out of the tale that's being told. I like to think and I teach a class called deconstructing Star Wars. Where we got into this, that's amazing. So yeah, no surprise, I suppose given my background, but but looking at it, to me, the Big Bang of Star Wars, where it all starts is that moment when Luke is walking out looking at the twin sunsets. And that's where it all it's, that's the big bang of that entire universe is just some kid stuck on a farm wanting adventure.
Alex Ferrari 23:27
And that's everybody, you that's everybody. That's how universal is that? It's not a diet and not a piece and not a piece of dialogue. And that image by the way, it's not like it is just the imagery. I mean, we know who the character is at that point. And he's a young boy living on a farm. But that moment, there's not like, wow, I wish I had some adventure. Now there was no dialogue there. He just looks and everywhere around the world. Wherever you are, you just go Yep, that's what we want. We want that thing we want to get out of where we are at one stage or another in our lives. We want to get out of where we are, or just go to another place or go on a vacation, or go on an adventure at once. And we said before it's it's it's remarkable. You're right. But that is the Big Bang of the entire Star Wars universe I would agree with you.
Will Hicks 24:14
And it's interesting, because, you know, why do you go to movies to do the same thing, alright, to experience something that you can't necessarily experience in real life. Or if it's a realistic film, you know, experiencing real life on steroids or something like that. But you know, to me, it's as much a film about the about filmmaking as it as anything else. And then you touch on a really important point. It's something I discussed quite a bit in my book, but not the plug the book. But it really kind of cuts to the heart of how cinema communicate story. And it's that idea, that scene is silent. And the reason it works is because it's silent. And we the audience, then insert whatever, you know, we could be thinking, Oh, yeah, Luke is checking out Why are there two sons, and we could think that it would work. Or you know, obviously what the filmmaker intended, which is just longing for something. But notice, because at silence, we put our thoughts in there. And as a result, whatever works for you may be different than works for me. But we both have the opportunity to do it.
Alex Ferrari 25:24
As opposed to having up Yeah, other than having the on the nose dialogue and like, wow, I wish I had some adventure, like which we see sometimes instead of just like not just shish shish, keep what we were talking before we came on about, about finding inspiration or story elements from different weirdest places ever. And I was like, Oh, I still remember this David Fincher commercial. Because I love the David Fincher, I've studied all his commercial work and music, video work. And some of the stuff that he does is, you know, they think of a lot of people think of him as a visual storyteller, and, you know, very technical and his films are aesthetically, you know, searchable, almost it really are. And they don't give him enough credit for emotion. And character development. I think that's, you know, I mean, you look at seven or you look at Fight Club and things like that. But this commercial was so simple. But it was clear for Lani of forlani, I think her name is she was the girl from men and black. And I'm in black, mutual black. And she's sitting in a restaurant with an older gentleman look good looking older gentlemen, in a fancy restaurant, and she's a much younger green, she must be in her early 20s. He must be in his probably late 40s, early 50s. And in there having dinner and then all of a sudden, it's raining outside, and there's a big glass window in the restaurant. And this young, strapping young guy who has desperation in his face starts very Allah, the graduate banging on the on the glass going, you know, him and everyone's like, Oh, my God, Who is this? And she sees it. And she's like, making the decision at that point. Do I stay with this older stable guy? Or do I go on this crazy adventure? With this young one with, I have no idea what's gonna happen. And she decides to get up goes outside, they kiss they embrace in the rain, everyone starts clapping. And of course, then you pan down and go Levi's. But the story was there, and I put all everything I just explained to you. I made that up. Meaning like, I don't know who that get that could have been her father. But I don't think it was, you know, I actually implanted the storyline in there. And I, I added the whole thing like this, this guy, that guy could be super rich, that kid and he could be very successful, I don't know. But the way he left it open like that you implant your own emotions there. And your own storyline, and just like the two moons and look.
Will Hicks 27:51
Yeah, and that's, And that, to me is the power of cinema. It's that ability. And it's one of those things we you know, talk about, like a novelist, for instance, they'll give you a story, and you supply the visuals, you know, based on the words, film, we're just the opposite. We're giving you the visuals, and asking you to start assembling that story, put the story together. Now, obviously, everything is highly guided, and just like in the commercial, but it's an idea No, no, no. If you want to create meaning, it's done by the person watching it, and heavily guided by the filmmaker who's presenting these two images and saying, All right, put them together. And that's, it's it's an interesting thing. That's one of the things not that it's not, you know, interview about Star Wars, I suppose. But going back Star Wars was a very experiential film. And think about it, Lucas creates an entire galaxy, buy from a bunch of dudes sitting around in rubber suits in a bar. And you imply and we add all of that stuff to it. We're like, Oh, yeah, where'd they come from? And what's their backstory, and so forth? And so we start adding all these layers to it. It's a it's an, it's a playground for your imagination, to then start filling in all those pieces. And then you watch the film to see what did I filled in correctly? Did I not put it in correctly and so forth? And so really masteral films, I think that's the craft. Usually, a statement I say that gets me in trouble is a movie is not a story. It's evidence that a story is being told. Oh, that's okay.
Alex Ferrari 29:29
That's actually a really interesting way of looking at it. It that's Can you can you dig into that a little bit? Because I'm curious where you're going with that?
Will Hicks 29:38
Well, it's the idea that so much of what we do in in filmic storytelling and cinematic narrative is indirect. And you even touched on it you know, talking about Oh, you don't write on the nose. Well, why not? that'll tell the story the fastest way possible. Then you can pack more story in Mm hmm. But it clunks it almost always clunks in me Okay, why? You know, why don't we want to be told these things? What do we want to do here? And we want to figure it out, we want to figure it out for ourselves. And so much of cinematic narrative is indirect. And it led me to the conclusion like, Oh, wait, we're not. It's not a pure story in the sense that we're sitting down around a campfire and telling you these things, but rather, we're showing you all of these events, and in allowing you the audience member to put it together. In a very, once again, it's guided, it's very guided, but putting it together way to come up with a story collaboratively. Film is in me, it drives me crazy when people say, oh, films a passive medium. No, it's not interactive. Yeah, it's in the joystick isn't here. You know, the joystick is in here. It's in your mind. And you start and you start watching the film saying, Okay, well, why don't you say that, so forth. And then the film explores those things, really smart films are interactive by nature,
Alex Ferrari 31:03
right, and you start thinking about subtext, I mean, subtext is not a subtext is not efficient. That is not efficient in the story. Like you can't, you can't, when you're telling a story around the campfire subtext is a difficult thing, to have a conversation about, like you can't be like she said, clean the dishes. But what she really meant to tell her husband is that you don't love me anymore. So and that's hard to say. But it's so much easier in the visual medium, to say, because of acting, because of environment because of those nuances, that is very difficult to put in the written word, extremely difficult to put into a word. But in cinema, you're allowed to do that. And again, we'll go back to that scene with the two moons, if you would have said that, like, Hey, I wish I had adventure. It doesn't have the same umph to it. If you would just if you say the exact same thing in your head, because you feel like you're being pulled along that you're part of this. You are Luke, if someone tells you what they're feeling, you're not Luke anymore. And that's where I think a lot of screenplays and films fail is that they don't give the audience the opportunity to identify and become that character. So you know, when we watch Indiana Jones, which now part five is being filmed as we speak, Hey, man, I'm there. Why not? I am to look, you know, will it will it nuke the fridge? I don't know. But But when you're watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Last Crusade or Temple of Doom, your your indie. When you watch a James Bond movie, you're James Bond, you know, and you go along these adventures with these, but the subtleties of what they say how they, I mean, Indiana Jones is full of subjects. I mean, every word he says, That's some sort of subtext, you know, oh, my God, it's so amazing the way they the way they crafted that again, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on that one. It's, it's remarkable. But you're absolutely right. I really never kind of put it to words like you just like how we've been having this discussion. And I hope people listening can really understand the power of the interactivity of the audience, and only masters of the craft, both of screenwriting, but I think also of filmmaking, because it turns into, like, there's only so much you can do on the page, and then it then you have to give it over to the actors and the director, and the day, because some things happen on the day that you just can't write. So it is that collaborative art form. But it's those masters like Hitchcock. I mean, I mean, he's one of the ones that everyone has to watch. But Hitchcock is one of those filmmakers that he even said he's like, I wish one day that I could just have a machine that I could touch a button and hit that motion, and touch a button hit that motion play the audience like a piano. And that's what his films, I mean, you go back and watch psycho. I mean, it's just a masterclass in all I mean, there's a there's a period North by Northwest, there's that period for vertigo that he had like six or seven, his his, his his time. They're all massive. They're just so masterful, and you just go along with it. And they still hold up even though they're older films and things like that. But the storytelling still holds up and you're you're along for the ride. I mean, you are. You are. Oh God, what's your name? in the in the shower? Generally, generally you are Janet Lee. And when that figure comes in with the with the juice, you feel like you've been you've been stabbed. It's fascinating to watch that sequence. It's amazing to watch.
Will Hicks 34:52
Yeah, and with and within the context of the film itself because back in the day, Janet Lee was the star
Alex Ferrari 35:00
There's, of course,
Will Hicks 35:01
and of course, you know, no movie kills off at Star halfway through, and then you're going, Okay, well, who do I hang out with now? Because, you know, what's name Anthony Perkins?
Alex Ferrari 35:12
like to hang out with this weirdo?
Will Hicks 35:14
Yeah. And, and you don't have a choice you have to? It's like, Okay, well, I don't have a choice. I have to this is now my main character. So just the guts. That was just the brilliance of the film in my mind. Because it played with your expectations. You're like, okay, she'll somehow get out of it.
Alex Ferrari 35:30
No, she's gone. What do we do now? But there's but there's something to be said there about the Curiosity aspect of it. Now. Now you're in now I'm hooked, you are engaged, because all your preconceived notions have been thrown out the window. And and Hitchcock knew that when he was making that film, he knew that you thought that she's the star, she's going to keep going. And he's completely flipped it. And now you're just like, wait a minute. If they could kill off the main actress, they could kill anybody off at any moment for the rest of this film. So I need to pay attention now. And then Wes Craven did it as well with scream when he killed Drew Barrymore at the beginning of the river. Yeah, like, you know, she's the bachelor I was gonna go to, arguably arguably the biggest star in that movie. She's like, Oh, yeah, it's the Drew Barrymore movie, and she's on the poster and everything. And first 10 minutes. You're like, holy cow. It's, I call it now The Walking Dead effect, which is the when you watch the series, The Walking Dead. And there's other series that kill off people, I think, against the throne. I never watched games with them. But I know that there's no one safe, that that no one's safe thing keeps the audience at edge, especially if it's you've especially a long, long form, like television, or streaming that you can emotionally attached over, you know, that, you know, sometimes seasons after seasons. And you're like, oh, my god, they're gone now. But knowing that at any moment, it's gone. That's such a powerful storytelling technique.
Will Hicks 37:04
It is. And it's set in motion. So now we're like, okay, nobody's safe. And you have to watch because you're not quite sure what could possibly happen next. And it's kind of like the, I guess, for example, from classical music, like the surprise Symphony. And you get this little bang, it's like, okay, and you never know when it's gonna show up again. So you have to always create that level of tension in there. And films do the same thing. for Canada, the same thing you want to go there.
Alex Ferrari 37:31
And that's why I love Bohemian Rhapsody. Maybe the craziest, craziest pop song ever written? And, and you just sit there like, Wait, is that an opera is that not rock now it's now it's a ballad, like what's going on. But you know, that will go that's another world we can go down later. But it's very, very similar, though, it's like you will completely don't know what's going to happen. And if you as a screenwriter can, as a storyteller can't keep your audience guessing. In a comedy in a thriller, and horror in an action, you will work for the rest of your life, and you will always get paid to write. But bottom line, if you can keep the audience or the reader or the whoever's consuming your content on not knowing what's happening next. You want you want because we're so educated, for better or worse, everything's done. It's so hard to surprise us. That's why when we are surprised with a twist, you know, remember six cents, Jesus Christ, what six that's came out. I mean, that one of the greatest, one of the greatest twist endings of all time, he built the entire career off of that now, he's like, I have to have to do twist endings all the time. You know, it's, it's like he had to build this career around twist endings. But that was one of the greatest twist endings, ever. In your art as an audience member, if you can, and that's why that movie, I mean, it's essentially, potentially a drama slash ghost story, not really particularly scary, some of the scary parts, but it's essentially a drama. And we're all like, okay, we're all walking down. The story does this very nice internet. But when that thing happens, everything from that moment before gets rewound in your head, and you're just like, oh, wait a minute, well, and it just blows people's minds. And it was just remarkable. As a storyteller. I have such respect for me. I mean, what he's been able to do in his career as a writer is remarkable.
Will Hicks 39:32
And it kind of taps into the idea of, you know, really good ending is not I didn't see that coming. A really good ending is I should have seen that comment. And you go back and watch. So for instance, you go back and you know, watch Sixth Sense, like it's all there. Oh. And that goes back to that idea of allowing the audience to put these elements together kind of goes back way back to the day. You Billy Wilder said Ernst Lubitsch, you said let the audience had two plus two. They love you for it. And so it's the idea that we're sitting here looking at this movie as an audience member sticking with six cents for a little bit. And going, Okay, yeah, this poor kid, you see, and all the clues are there that Oh, yeah. As well as once again spoiler, you know, in among us these days. But we don't put it together that way, because the way the film is presented, and then when you get the twist, that's the key you needed to understand to then go back and look up. No wonder she didn't talk to him. He's not there. Because only the Kip Hailey Joe Osmond. Because name is only he can see that people. And so it's it's playing with his audience expectations. And saying, okay, here's it's think of a movie is kind of like a q&a session. And think about the questions the audience is going to have and how they're going to be assembling the information you're presenting to them. And then you start to play around with it. And allow them to draw the conclusion that, oh, this isn't quite right. And then you can you can flip it on them and create those reversals, and create that idea of unpredictability. It's really hard when you think about it. You know, movie audiences today, in particular, are really savvy. And they're like, okay, yeah, see it coming. And if they can see that ending, coming, usually not a good thing. But the irony is, they also want the ending they want. So you know, if I have I'll go back to Star Wars, just because any easy example. If I go back, and Luke is there in the trench, you know, and use the false loop let go, you know, and invaders like I have you now and blast them in a loop just kind of goes in vaporizes. Yeah, really sucks. If you like,
Alex Ferrari 41:42
worst movie ever. You got
Will Hicks 41:44
to be kidding me an empire goes and blows up the Death Star and or blows up, you know, the Rebel base. We want that ending, we want the hero to be triumphant. We just don't want to see it coming. Because then it becomes predictable. So how do you create the predictable ending the ending we want, but make it unpredictable. And that's really the art of it? Well, I
Alex Ferrari 42:05
was just watching. I was just watching The Handmaid's Tale. And we're, as of this recording, getting towards the end of season four, not going to give any spoiler alerts. But something happens to a character there, who has a bad character. And we're all going like this guy needs to get his up is coming up in one way, shape, or form. And then as you start seeing the episode, and we've been this, this for seasons built up. So this is I mean, we've built this up, and we're waiting for the character and something, a twist happens for a second, like, oh, wait a minute, and are in our main characters doing something? And you're like, oh, wait a minute. And then I literally was sitting there with my wife looking at it. Like we're both trying to figure it out. But is she going to do this is accident happened? Where's this gonna go? Where are they? What's going on? And we're like, and we're so savvy. I mean, I'm probably a little bit more savvy, you know, story analysts than most you know, people that do this for a living. So and my wife is just been with me for so long. She's become one as well. And she'll catch up. So we're like this, this? We didn't see it coming? exactly the way it happened. Like we've looked. Oh, and then afterwards, you're like, it was perfect. Oh, my God, it was cool. Perfect. Well, like Breaking Bad, the end of Breaking Bad you like you want How do you end that? I'm not going to break. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone. But you should anyone listening to this should have seen Breaking Bad at this point, the entire series. But that ending like how do you end? arguably one of the best shows ever written? Ever, ever produced it? arguably, but what some of the best storytelling ever? How do you end it and didn't see it coming? at all completely original way they ended it. And it was so satisfying. And that's why endings of shows are so bad. So that because it's just it's just so hard.
Will Hicks 43:51
Yeah, it is. Well, you know, you think about TV, it's built to extend, you know, it's built to sustain and it's not really built, you know, we talk a lot about, you know, film, at least the origins of film. They're really meant to be self contained, not, you know, franchises, sequels and all that stuff. disregarded, but it's meant to be a self contained story, whereas TV is meant to be a sustaining story goes on and on and on. And so sometimes those endings, particularly for TV shows are really hard, because the medium is built differently, or at least the approach to the meeting is both a little bit differently.
Alex Ferrari 44:25
Now, you were talking to me off camera about this old PlayStation game called Crash Bandicoot and that you found some some gem of something in that in regards to story. Can you please elaborate?
Will Hicks 44:41
Yes, you're a bit of a backstory to it when my son was really little. And I was playing this Crash Bandicoot game he loved to watch it in watch me play this thing. But it wasn't just like the game in its entirety. It was a single level called the Great gate of all things. And check it out. If you haven't seen it, watch a walkthrough on YouTube or what have you. But this one level and I play the level and he's like, again, again, set up to play the level again, again, again, Okay, you know what you do for your kids like, Alright, so I'll play it again and again and again. And he never got tired of the single level of this game, I must have played that thing, hundreds of times, I'd play with a controller upside down and play with my eyes closed, you know, because I'm so bored of the stupid level, right. And then there was just one little sequence in there. Where, if you're familiar with the game as a platform, and it's tilted, and there's this green moss stuff on the side of it, and then a little platform down below it, so it kind of looks a little bit like that. And the green moss stuff is slippery, and may sound like the stupidest thing ever. But it hit me in that moment, that oh, we were just taught a rule, green moss is slippery. That's in video games, a very simple rule. But we were taught it without stakes, because there was a platform for you to land on. So that you would be safe. Now imagine if you just slipped off and die to be like this stupid game, not gonna go extra hard at all. And what hit me in that month, and then then the next little sequence there, they show you that Oh, you can slip backwards, you can slip forward. And it kind of explores the idea of this green moss stuff of all things. What dawned on me in that moment, watching that thing, or the Epiphany I had was, oh, that was a, that was a storytelling element. If we were to translate it to film that was set up without stakes, it was introduced before the game needed it, and could then explore it. And then the connection for me and of all things, I was watching duel, like Spielberg TV movie, and there's a shot close to the end, it's really wide shot of the truck overturned. And there's just a single wheel spinning, and then a punch in for a close up of that wheel. And I realized, Oh, that's the same thing, that element was planted in the story, to achieve the effect of just that wheel spinning at the end. And so the conclusion I drew from it was, every element in the story has to be has to be laid in before the story itself needs it. In other words, you put these elements in as storytelling devices, before you actually need them to affect the narrative affect the plot affect the characters. And so that was the conclusion I drew. And it led to all sorts of good stuff that came out of that, that simple little moment there with green moss and a crash bandicoot game from about 2001 or whatever.
Alex Ferrari 47:39
Yeah, that's actually really profound. It's a really powerful tool that good writers and good storytellers need to do. And if I may bring it back to Mr. Jimmy Cameron, if you go back to the scene in aliens, where Ripley at the beginning of the movie says, Hey, I can I can drive that loader. I'm second level certified or something like that. And I go ahead and get into it, she gets into that loader, and she starts walking around starts moving boxes and stuff. There's the plant. That's the plant. That's the plant right there. Because at the end, when she goes and fights the queen, and arguably says, the greatest line in sci fi history, get away from her ubitx. It all came together at that moment. And it's all about that setup, payoff setup payoff entity, every good movie, they'll drop a little nugget in or they'll focus on, you know, the, the, the letter opener on the desk for no reason at the beginning. And then towards the end. I'm like, that's what kills the bad guy, you know? So that is something that screenwriters really should and storytellers and directors really should focus on trying to do those plants. And, you know, set up reveal setup reveals how to reveal or pay
Will Hicks 48:57
off. And that's it. Yeah, and that's exactly the conclusion I drew as well, just the power of that technique. But it's not just the the elements within the plot itself, the content, it's actually how you how you tell the story itself, the devices you're going to use to convey the narrative. So to connect Crash Bandicoot of all things to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, if you've ever seen that?
Alex Ferrari 49:21
It's a complete direct line. I completely see it, sir. Thank you.
Will Hicks 49:26
Yeah, we probably just lost all the rest of your audience. But no, no, if you look at it early on in that film, and they're going to show you all these different devices. So you had that scene with Jim Carrey, walking out a Barnes and Noble and into the living room of his friends. And wouldn't ask frickin scene. But then you go, Well, okay, they could have just cut you cut to the flashback of him in there with what's your deployment time and then cut back to the, to the living room, but they didn't. And you realize, oh, they're planning that as a storytelling device. In other words, Be on the lookout because we're gonna be messing with your perceptions in this movie. And we're going to be blending things like that and just cluing in the audience before the story needed to do it. And then once you've planted that device, then you can now use it because it's now familiar to the audience. And so that's what Crash Bandicoot David green moss, but the key was that little platform that was there were no stakes to it. And it was just implanting that as a rule in the story. And so really good films actually teach you how to consume the film, how to interact with the film. And back to what you were saying about plant payoff, or setup and payoff. That's allowing the audience to interact with it. In other words, yeah, you're on board with me, you caught my setup. And now you catch my payoff, and informs the audience includes the audience in that, oh, I get this movie, I understand it. I'm with it. And so then you start looking for those elements. And it just adds the entertainment. So anyway, it's about teaching the audience.
Alex Ferrari 51:02
Yeah. So then we can go back to Star Wars, again, with the plant and pay off, which is the force, you set the force up so much, George sets the force up so much at the beginning. And throughout the film, about the force, the force, the force, the jet has the force, the force. And at the end, when he's down, that he's about to shoot, and he's using his technology is that use the Force. That's the moment that everybody goes, Oh, my God, it's the power is not outside, the power is within myself. And that is such a powerful message. And it's so subtle, and it's it's wrapped around a, you know, a serial sci fi action movie. But that message hits so close to home for humanity, that any struggles that we have, if we actually look inside, we will find the answer. That's what that is. And that's what the forces and that's why people you know, there's actual people, you run the religions around Jedi, and all that stuff, which there's, there's books, there's the Jedi Bible, and there's all this kind of stuff. I mean, I'm speaking from people who obviously aren't watching this, I have a life size Yoda behind me, obviously, everyone knows that I'm a Star Wars fan. So but I do not go that far deep. I've never dressed up. Not that there's anything wrong with it. But I've never done anything I've ever gone that far. But that concept is so so so powerful. And one of the reasons why that film, and you obviously teach a class in this so are you on board with what I'm saying?
Will Hicks 52:36
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it's that universal aspect of it. No, I've never been a you know, on a desert planet on a in a galaxy far, far away. And my dad isn't Darth Vader spoiler. I can I can relate to that notion that there's some there's something else there and that that ability is inside you. And even Vader has that line in the original Star Wars. You know, don't be too proud of the technological terror you've constructed. Yeah, not about the technology dude. It's about believing in yourself and, and then diving into kind of Lucas's background. And what led to the making of Star Wars. You see it this very personal story that's laid inside this huge, you know, your Death Stars and all that other stuff. It's at its heart. It's a personal story. That is I think it gets the best of both worlds.
Alex Ferrari 53:25
Yeah, it's about his dad. It's about his relationship with his father. Me. That's what he's very much. So that's what do I mean, that's what yeah, it's what what Star Wars is about. It's a personal story. So there's that added level as well, that you can sense there's an authenticity there in that relationship with with Darth Vader. And the best thing about it is that setup isn't paid off until the second movie, because we don't know that he's his father. We don't know that until, and arguably the greatest twist ending in movie history, you know, success aside, his empire strikes back office.
Will Hicks 54:03
Oh, no, that's money as a holy smokes. Now, ironically, at least my understanding is that wasn't the original plan. And that sort of came about it resolved a lot of story issues. And like, Oh, yeah, let's make him his dad. It works perfectly. And indeed it did. But originally, he wasn't the dad. But then you go, okay, Darth Vader, dark father, or whatever. But I think you're looking at that. It really is a telling moment. And it's one that I kind of think about a lot in that one particular class is when Obi Wan Luke asks him, you know, what about my dad, you know, everyone's like, Well, you know, Vader betrayed and murdered your father. And there's this little pause there. And I asked my students, you know, what's Obi Wan thinking right there and almost all of them are, it's like a is about the line. But the original intent was no it was just something pay. It was a painful episode, at least my understanding that Lucas didn't quite have that Father thing figured out that came about as a result of writing a parser expect,
Alex Ferrari 55:10
right. And that's the thing too is things that we see in cinema history that we're like, well, that's exactly the way it was supposed to be. wasn't at all the way the initial people were the initial creators we're thinking of I was talking to somebody the other day, who was telling me you should read the first draft of back the future. And then read the shooting draft back completely different movie. Did you ever read the first draft the Back to the Future?
Will Hicks 55:34
I've not I've not read the first draft, you should send it to me.
Alex Ferrari 55:37
So the first draft, there is no Clock Tower. There is no lightning. They were going to go to a nuclear power plant to recharge the car to go back in time. Oh, wow. That was weird. That was a whole thing. But then the studio said, Hey, guys, we don't got the budget for this. You're gonna have to do it on the backlot. And then Zemeckis and Gail both the Bob's both hooked up, there's a clock tower. I don't know what lightning hit it. And that's enough energy. All right, let's do that. Brilliant solution, a much better solution. It but but that's the thing, and a lot of times is there is Kismet that happens with with storytelling and things that I mean, obviously the one of the great scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark is that whole scene where this guy is, you know, the wielding the knife and and there was I think Spielberg said he they shot it like six or seven times it was a full action sequence till Finally, Harrison just like pulled out a gun and shot them. They're like, well, that's the take, why didn't we figure that out? Before that wasn't on the page. But on the day, it just made the most part one of the best laughs of the entire movie.
Will Hicks 56:46
Oh, yeah, it totally takes what works. Were expecting this big, huge fight sequence. And if I recall correctly, like, I think Harrison Ford was sick with stomach flu like regular folks on the set were sick, I couldn't really do it. And oh, what an elegant solution. And it kind of goes back to that whole idea of limitations, fostering creativity, and coming up with a much more creative solution than what we intended. Because like, yeah, we can show all this. But, you know, just because we can show it doesn't mean we should. And I think the original Star Wars benefited from that, in the sense that I can't show you I don't have the budget to show you the entire galaxy. And so as a result, I'm going to show you a little snippets of it, which then allowed the audience to fill all that in. And, you know, I think when we look back at some of these films from you know, back in the day that were really well crafted, but they had all these limitations to what they could show. That was indeed exactly what they created, was a place for audiences to put the, to add to the story to interact with it and so forth. And so, you know, today, and even Lucas talked a little bit about it. He's like, Yeah, sometimes I have gotten my vision on the screen, and nobody really much cared for it. Okay. But to me, it was it was always, you know, when you George Lucas, you can do that. But to me, it was like, Oh, this is cutting against what cinema does best, which is creating these moments and allowing us to find meaning in them. When we provide the meaning as filmmakers, when we complete the picture, we kind of nuke the audience, we remove part of the entertainment value of it, because it's your vision and not our vision. Oh, it kind of goes back. Gosh, always relating back to Star Wars today, for some reason, you know, to the idea. I saw a picture of Lucas, you know, wearing a Han shot first t shirt. I'm like, dude, you don't want to change it, of course, on choppers. But it's really funny because then you go well, Lucas's version of Han, the character is very different than our version of Han. And we took in, so we're like, no, the character would never do that. But then Who are we? I mean, we're telling the dude who created the character, you know, like, No, your character would never do that. It's a co construction. It's us the audience saying no.
Alex Ferrari 59:04
And that's why there's so that's why it's there's so much vitriol towards Lucas sometimes about Star Wars because people are so passionate about the like, the prequels were an abomination. How dare you though the re releases were an abomination. How dare you and there's so much passion about it. And I always have, I'm always from the, from the school of thought, I'm like, it's his. It's his man. It's like, it's his painting. Yeah, if he wants to change a couple strokes, that's up to him, man. That's not art. Like we can enjoy it. But, but that's how it's his it's his blessing and his curse. He was so good as engaging the audience, but now he's got to deal with
Will Hicks 59:43
Yeah, and and then we go, that's not that's not how I put it together, dude. And so no matter what he does, it's wrong. And I think you know, as a filmmaker, he's like, Alright, well, you know, that is but I want to tell the story. So I will and, you know, go on for that. But at the end of the day, I think when something is so beloved, it becomes No, this is not how we built it. And, you know, it's like, well, that wasn't my intended at all anyway, as a filmmaker, so it is kind of a Yeah, it was a blessing and a curse, I think you put it quite well.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:16
And I think that the going back a little bit to that Indiana Jones scene, playing if you as a screenwriter can play with the expectations of the audience. So that perfect scene illustrates that so wonderfully, they were expecting a full blown fight sequence. And then in a second, we don't get it. And it's such a pleasurable surprise, because you're playing with our expectations. Hitchcock did that with the psychos with psycho and killing off the lead actress. If you can play with the audience's expectations a bit. In your writing. Again, you will work forever.
Will Hicks 1:00:52
Yeah, it's it's your message to the audience is what you're doing. And you're you're taking in, it's tough, because you go, well, gosh, and audience is made up of a bunch of individual human beings all with different, you know, thoughts and ideas. And so alright, how do I do that? And you actually create an audience, you can you build an audience, in your film, films start off as you know, the successful ones, in my opinion, start off as being aiming at a very broad, you know, sensibility, and then begin to narrow and become more self referential, they start teaching you things. Here's the teacher saying films teach. But then they start teaching you things inside the film. And those are those setups, and then the payoffs come along. And what happens is you turn a group of individuals into an audience. And by the end of the film, the film, most films typical becoming increasingly self referential, they'll rely back on things they've shown you earlier in the movie, in order to pay off their endings. And so films that do that tend to do really well, because it takes into account Yeah, I've got a bunch of individual people who are watching this thing, I can't please them all by no stretch. And I'm going to be communicating in a very indirect way. But what you do is you start to guide the audience into that place where you want them to be in the reaction you want to get out of them at the end. And so it's just inefficient, but that's the that's the power of cinema, at least in my mind.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:18
Yeah. And in there's also some films that and some stories that age, they're ahead of their time, and they age much better than they were when they first initially were released. So a film like Fight Club, which we're talking about the twist ending, it's something that you need, again, it's very much like the success where you like, Oh, my God, it's Yeah, and they go back and show you all the things you're like, you should have seen the signs you should see Santa but that story, I mean, you if it's still one of my favorite films of all time, you watch it today, it holds, it holds so brilliantly, even though some of the technology might be dated as far as like, you know, the computers and the windows and things like that. But the style of it, the storytelling power of that film, I still argue is probably it's probably his best maybe other than the social network. Because to make the social network interesting is you are a master. You're a master, man. It's a story. Remember, when that came out? And you're like, oh, they're gonna tell the story of Facebook cares about the story of Facebook. cares, in look. I mean,
Will Hicks 1:03:26
good. No, I was gonna say, yeah, both those films are superb, actually, social network is another movie I teach, and one of my classes just exquisitely structured. But if you watch it, it's going to use the setups and payoffs just brilliantly. And it's going to use some of the techniques we were talking about here in terms of being able to insert us inside the mind of that character, and how it does it. It just really slick. And like, okay, yeah, there's the craft. When we look at film, and in terms of being an interactive medium, and involving the audience, it's a collaboration with the audience. It's q&a.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:05
Oh, yeah. It is actually q&a. You're always asking questions. What is he going to do next? What is she going to do next? How are they going to meet what's going to happen? Is the bad guy going to get away? So it's always these questions and answers going back and forth. The audience. Good movies are. And I always like I always like analyzing bad movies. Like why doesn't this work? And you know, there's my favorite bad movie of all time is the room. But the reason why the room is so bad is that because I always say I always say this is like when movies transcend. They're so bad that they transcend to good. That's one of those movies, there's just bad movies, and the room is so bad that it becomes good. And if you analyze the room, which is hard because it's so bad, nothing works. Nothing works on a on a storage level on an acting level on a craft. level, none of it works. But the only reason why people stand in line to watch that movie, it's not because it's a bad movie is because the creator was trying to create a good movie. And that's what came out the authenticity of because he didn't call out to make the one of the greatest cult bad movies of all time. He truly believed he was making a masterpiece. And that's what made it so.
Will Hicks 1:05:26
Oh, yeah, that's the you know, the shark NATO's of the world. Which
Alex Ferrari 1:05:31
shark NATO knew. But shark Neato knew what they were doing the second they came up with sharks in the tornado. So it's and they tweak in it, but like, you don't see the people in lining outside to see Sharknado in theaters. You know, there's not people with fan clubs about Sharknado. Like not really the room. It's a frickin world life. Oh, yeah, I mean, we go to remember birdemic remember that thing? Again? birdemic. There. So that was conscious. Yeah, it was a conscious thing. And you can tell a troll to, you know, when you watch troll two, which I By the way, I felt my soul die a little bit after I watched that movie. Because it was so bad. I actually enjoyed the documentary about the movie much more than the movie itself. It was so bad. It was I can't I literally died a little bit when I saw that film. But that was a film that the director had a vision and was thinking and is making the greatest, you know, horror movie of all time. And there's, you're right, but it's it has to be unintentional. If you go in intentionally, it doesn't
Will Hicks 1:06:30
work. Yeah. And that was kind of the thing with birdemic. That sort of like, Ah, yeah, it just doesn't feel and it ties back into of all things. Truth. And it's that idea, you know, I have a filmmaker who's trying to capture truth, and you employ the audience consensus. And if we get the sense that they're just trying, they're purposely trying to achieve this effect by making it bad, then it undermines the truth of the film, and then we walk or we don't get quite the same reaction.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:59
That's a really, that's a really great way of looking at that. I never really thought about that. But that is I use the word authenticity, but it is truth. It is the truth. As a filmmaker, you you have this, this kind of social contract with the audience, that you're going to try to entertain them and you're going to try to do it and the truth of the story, obviously, Star Wars is not a true story. But there is truth in it. There is universal messages in it that ring true. That's why it's so universally Beloved, throughout the world, and we're still talking about a movie. That's what yours is now. I mean, 50 over 50 Is it over 50 years old at this point? Almost. Almost. 50 almost 50 Yeah, almost 50 Yeah. 77. So yeah, so it's almost 50 years old now. And I hate to say there's not a lot of films that are at that age that people constantly talk about. Rocky would be another one. Like you can watch rocky one right now. And if you don't know, the story of Rocky, it hits, it hits so perfectly. And I mean, as another person, we talked about Cameron earlier, Stallone, such an underrated writer. I mean, he created Rocky, Rambo, and so many other that he writes almost anything he does, I mean, but Rocky's you know, Jesus Christ, it's Rocky.
Will Hicks 1:08:21
Yeah, no, I mean, in many, many films later, and when you look at it, it's it's all character. It's you feel for this guy who's just kind of down on his luck. And, you know, it's not the underdog story. Sure, that's a component that feeds into it. But it's just another character who's aspiring for something and just things aren't working out. The Universal is that
Alex Ferrari 1:08:45
and they get a shot, and then gets a shot that nobody in the world would ever get. You get a shot at the idol, and you're a bum. It's, it's like, it's like a filmmaker going, Steven Spielberg just called you up, and you're gonna direct the $200 million movie. Yeah. But I've never been on set. Like, you know, and then that was called Project Greenlight, but not quite, but you know what I mean? But that's the equivalent of, Oh, my God, and he gets the shot. And he initially refuses it, as he should, because he's not insanely
Will Hicks 1:09:19
bright. And it's like, it wouldn't be very good. I mean, he just, you know, and he has to be persuaded if there's a reluctant hero and our you know, refusal of the call, mythologically speaking. But, but within the context of film, it totally makes sense that we understand why he would refuse, you know, because he doesn't see himself as being much of anything. But then he goes for it, which, you know, kind of becomes the, the message of the film,
Alex Ferrari 1:09:45
right, and then, and he needs Mickey, to convince him to do it. The guy who saw the potential in him, but he never saw it in himself. He needed that that mentor figure it all goes back to Joseph Campbell. That mentary figure that brings him That out of him. And in an even in his own mind, he has to tell himself the story and like, I'm not going to beat the champion of the world, I'm not going to win this fight. My goal is to stand on my feet and go the distance. That is the only goal I have in this entire endeavor. I just want to stand instead of distance with the champ. That's all I want to do when I stand there want to prove that to myself, I know I'm not good enough to beat this guy, because he's the world champion. And even that one little story arc, because they originally had them winning, they shot both endings. They shot both endings, the shot that he won, but they felt that the more powerful one is like he didn't win, of course, setting up sequels upon sequels upon sequels.
Will Hicks 1:10:44
But also, he did. And you're exactly right in the scene prior, he was there talking with Adrian, and he's like, you know, nobody's ever got to distance with Crete. You know, he's kind of doing his thing. And he's setting up, here's my victory condition. And then we see we see how it plays out. But yeah, it would have been, it would have been hammy and especially at that era. So we're talking 1976. So, you know, we're still coming out of kind of American new wave. And most of those films ended with downer notes. And boy, that would have been, I think, a big pill for the audience to swallow then, which is to have emerged triumphant, because like, come on, dude. It undermines Apollo's character. Because Apollo is the master of disaster, The Count of Monte Cristo. Suck it, you know? Yeah. And even, you know, pardon me for kind of rambling, but even thinking of the character names when you look at them, you have a rock going against Apollo, a god.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:42
Really? No, you you right? never even thought of that. But you're absolutely right. He's Apollo, the God and he's a rock. Yeah, hard, who's gonna win this? But rocks are good, lasting. And taking
Will Hicks 1:11:57
and taking, taking punishment? Yeah. And of course, you know, I mean, he's more along the lines, Rocky Marciano from a historical perspective, but just the, you look at those small, small details in there, and they just work so well for the story. They're just kind of one of the things where it all comes together. But know that the right ending for that movie is to not have him win, and have him win and self respect.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:19
And the funny thing is, is because I know still on wrote up until I think the fourth one, I'm not sure if he wrote the fifth one or not, but he might have put up into the fourth one. On its arc of if you look at the first four, Rocky's the setup and reveal the setup and pay off set up and pay off. You've built up this relationship with Apollo, where now Mr. T is the bad guy. And Apollo needs to help him. And that builds up that relationship to the point where rocky for you everyone goes, I still remember everyone, like they kill the power. They kill the Pope. And they'll just I remember that. So like, I'm like, you're like, why did how did What's going on? Then everyone rushed out to see the evil Russian guy. You know. I was breaking it off longer in arguably one of the best performances of his life. He has like six lines. And he, it's so amazing. But yeah, it was it was it was perfection. Even on that level, Stallone understood the audience and what he had built with those characters, and was able to just play with the expectations again, because if you would have told me after watching rocky one, I'm like, oh, in two movies from now, Apollo is going to become his best friend, and help him defeat a new villain. Oh, and by the way, that he's gonna have to pay revenge because some other guys gonna be like, you would have said, No, that's impossible. So you're playing with those expectations, again, over the course of multiple movies, which we've all hoped to have, at one point or another, we have the ability and the privilege to be able to tell a story over so many movies.
Will Hicks 1:13:53
Oh, absolutely. And then it ties in really to the idea of Apollo not being a villain. He's an antagonist. Apollo was the hero of Apollo story. Always. Yeah, and that's, you know, that ties into really good villains, or antagonists I should say. And so then it's like, oh, what a great What a wonderful way of kind of reconciling cuz I always liked Apollo. It was cool. to have him now helping or working with a hero. Oh, that's such is beautiful. What a nice compromise. Because No, he's not evil at all. He was trying to, you know, he sort of took the fight lightly as he should have. And despite hubris, which the ancient Greeks would have busted his chops for. And, you know, Rocky, you know, emerges trumpet eventually. But he was never a villain. He was an antagonist and kind of delves into a little bit of difference between the two and still in, Savile knew that he was able to provide that character with, you know, a tragic arc, but certainly an arc nonetheless.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:58
And that's the thing, even in rock You want Apollo? He was never bad guy. He never did anything bad. If anything, he was giving him opportunities. Yes, for selfish reasons because he wanted to get his image to be better. That was the reason why he you know, chose this ridiculous idea of bringing a nobody in to fight the champion you imagine like in the days of Tyson when he was at his power, like he just bring some bum off the street, who maybe had three or four fights or whatever, it gets destroyed. Yeah, but but the brilliance of it that he was not a villain. And I think that actually leads into yet another conversation, which is the part of a villain. And I think that bad villains and bad antagonists don't have good. They generally don't have a good story that they're telling themselves. So the idea of the twisting the mustache at the trail at the train station, while the woman is tied up in the heroes coming to save that story at the time was very like, Oh my god, but now you look at him like why is he tired? Or what? what's what's the purpose? Why? Why are you doing? You're just being bad for bad? That's boring. That for bad is absolutely boring. But someone like Thanos who, you know, they built Thanos up over the course of 10 years. Oh, yeah. Did you dripping him down like little little, little easter eggs throughout all those movies that knows as as a villain, because he is a bad guy. But his story that he tells himself he's trying to do good. He's like, Look, the world the universe is overpopulated. I think the solution for that it's just this kill half everybody off. You know, it's just very pragmatic, very pragmatic way of going about things. Is it wrong? Yes. But in his stories, like this is the only way I see I'm trying to do a greater good in a very bad way. And most villains throughout history, you start looking at, you know, power hungry dictators and things like that. And even throughout cinema history, the best villains always have just misguided visions of something good trying to solve a problem, but just misguided in solving that problem. Magneto in the x men, you know, he's just like, you know, there is no working with these people. We are the superior race. And we are now going to, to take over the world as mutants, you know, but then Professor X is his other side's like, No, we could work with them, we can help them we can. So it's like that, that whole thing. But he's an interesting villain, as opposed to just a villain like I just, if he would have said, I don't like anybody else, I think we're just gonna kill people. It's boring. It's boring. There has to be a better story.
Will Hicks 1:17:44
Yeah, and, and when we think about that, so we look at, like the protagonists and antagonists, we're looking at two sides of the theme. And when you have the villain, who's on the other side, saying just being evil, for the sake of evil, you kind of think, then it's like, there's no other side of the theme being presented. It's interesting, one sided, and that becomes propaganda. And we sense it, and we're like, okay, it's just, all right. And so it starts to lose those layers. And then that ties back in a little bit to with the idea that the shadow archetype, you know, when we talk, talk about hero's journey and such of the shadow represents a fallen hero, someone who was trying to be good, and when we look at their characteristics, you'll see Oh, there, they have a lot of wonderful traits. And then there's this one component typically it's it's related to selfishness. In other words, they're in it for themselves rather than for benefiting others. And that's that that dividing line. Example I like to use is Hannibal Lecter of all people. Who's a shadow archetype. When you when you look at the character really deeply, who turned
Alex Ferrari 1:18:53
who, and who turned into an antihero,
Will Hicks 1:18:57
yeah. Relationships cool, too. But it makes sense because it draws on their their fallen heroes, they're heroes who started out on the path of good or on the path to help others and realized, wait a second, I've got all these powers. nobody's doing stuff for me. And they decided to go into it for themselves. But if we look at Hannibal Lecter, as a character, and rattle off a list of traits, like Oh, he's intelligent, that's admirable.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:25
Will Hicks 1:19:27
good artist, if you recall, you know, the drawings. He he drew all those from memory, Dr. Electric, you know, that kind of? He's a fine, you know, I guess, could run like a recipe channel. That'd be kind of cool. But he's polite. He's exceedingly polite. Well, man, like well mannered, like, Yeah, he doesn't like the fact that to get multiple meanings. And in the next cell, you know, it was rude to Clarice so he had him swallow his own tongue. If we rattled this list of traits, it's like holy smokes, that guy sounds great. And then you like And oh yeah, maybe have eats people. It's one thing he said thing
Alex Ferrari 1:20:06
that one thing he eats people. And that's the brilliance of that character and of that story, it's that you love what you love Hannibal, you know you how you absolutely are, you are in love with a cannibal. A vicious killing, handled the cannibal. And, and that's the brilliance of that when you can love a villain that much. So much so that the villain then eventually turns into a hero. In other movies, in other movies, and even arguably in science of the land. It's it's, he's the one that helps catch the ultimate bad villain of Buffalo Bill, who has no redeeming value whatsoever. Not like he he's a sick, just sick person who has obvious issues. Obviously, she has to say the least, just a few. But there's no redeeming. There's nothing redeeming about him. He, I mean, nothing. I think the only redeeming thing about Buffalo Bill is his puppy. He doesn't hurt the animal he does. And that's like, his only weakness is like, you know, that was the thing that finally you know, one of the things that was the puppy, that's the only thing I can remember of that character that's even remotely redeeming that he likes animals, like you're reaching, reaching out that one.
Will Hicks 1:21:22
Yeah, it's a bit of a straight up. Dude. Okay. And that's exactly right. And so there's a difference between our you know, Shadow archetype and an antagonist. And so it's that notion of that fallen hero who kind of gave into themselves. And I don't know where we started, or how we got started on this topic, villains,
Alex Ferrari 1:21:46
villains and villains. And so
Will Hicks 1:21:49
it says villains who do have, like, okay, I can see your motivations. I get it. And once again, that ties us into how we relate to the film. We get it, we understand where they're coming from. And it's an intriguing question, what would you do if you were put in those those shoes? And the filmmakers pop? That is a question. And now we may say, No, I would never kill off half the population. No, that's just wrong. But I can certainly see where Thanos is coming from. So Chris character identification with the villain. Once you do that, well, you got a good playground to play in it much more complex character than just, you know, hanging out on the train tracks.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:24
I mean, so asking the question, if you had the power of the Infinity Gauntlet, instead of killing off half a million or half a half the population of the universe, why not double the universe? And have more places? Why not have more places for more resources, double all the resources, triple all the resources, make the resources infinite? With the Infinity Gauntlet? Infinity Gauntlet, do you see Thanos? You're wrong, sir. But, but that's but that's perspective. It's all about perspective on what he felt that was that was the way of going about it, but his and also, he had so much pain, because of that specific problem, where they killed off his family and all this kind of stuff. when he was younger, that that's why that pain caused him to go back towards the, I'll just create more resources to I'm gonna have to kill half in his misguided way to do it.
Will Hicks 1:23:23
Exactly. And notice what that does for us as an audience is that that clues us in as to who he is as a person. Oddly enough, it reveals his character and and isolates it down. There's something we talk about, like isolating the variable. It's a math term. But it's the idea that that personality trait, whatever it is, that drives that character, and I talk a lot about character design and design freak when it comes to storytelling. But what it does is it isolates it down to Yeah, you could have chosen that, but you didn't. And that tells us something about who he is. And also clues us into that aspect of pain, which can be relatable as well. And so really smart films will do that. where it'll, it'll say, Yeah, you've got this choice and you chose this. Why? You know, and it kind of questions implicit, and then we watch the film to find out.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:15
Yeah, so, you know, obviously one of the greatest villains of all time, Darth Vader, you know, at the core of Darth Vader, he's not a bad guy. He's angry. He he feels loss, but there's a humanity inside that villain. At the beginning, we don't see that we just see the bad guy. But during the course of even the the original trilogy, you see him arc to the point where he then becomes the Savior. He becomes the Redeemer he becomes redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi. But that villain, you know, and then once you go back into the prequels, you kind of see where all that pain came from, and the loss and everything like that, that turned him into what he intended. But at the end of the day, though, he's still he's still he was still a good guy inside.
Will Hicks 1:25:10
Oh, yeah. I mean, when you think about him, he's another he's similar to Hannibal Lecter in that regard, is always positive traits. He's strong, he's intelligent, he wants to bring order to the galaxy, okay, galaxy is a messy place, he's going to tidy it up. He wants to reconnect with his kid. Think about it. Luke never sent him a Father's Day card. And he wants to connect with them. Okay, that's nice, too. And oh, yeah, by the way, I want to rule the galaxy as father and son, okay. And you're willing to chop people and do a lot of chaos in order to achieve all these things. And so there's that, once again, loaded up with all these positive attributes. And there's that that trait that gets it What's wrong with that character, their character flaw? In some ways? You touched on something that's kind of cool. We can look at the idea between our protagonist and antagonist as one who arcs versus one who doesn't, and ask yourself this, check out check out movies. Typically, the villain does not arc they don't change, they don't learn the lesson of the movie. Right? Hero does and succeeds, right? The villain does not and is destroyed. And for movies, you mentioned seven earlier, Brad Pitt. You know, what's it about? Brad Pitt? doesn't learn the lesson of the film, and gets destroyed by it. Right, a spoiler again. But, but that's the idea at the core of the story. And at the core of what films tend to do. The successful ones in my mind, is when a character learns that and is willing to grow and change as a result of, you know, what the film is presenting them with? They tend to emerge triumphant when they're not, they tend to be destroyed.
Alex Ferrari 1:26:51
Yeah, that's a really great point of view. Because I mean, Brad Pitt obviously never learned the lesson. And the only person, even even even Morgan Freeman, he doesn't learn a lesson. He knew the lesson the entire time. And he was trying to teach it but yet he was like, Oh, my God, I've I failed, the whole movie ends on a downer. I mean, the whole movie is a downer. There's no question about it. Even john doe's character, he knew what was going on. And john doe, throughout the entire movie doesn't change does he doesn't want to change. Right? He's, he's a villain, and no one really knows why john doe does what john doe does, there was no, there is no motivation. He is a pure villain. From the beginning to end, and it he does have a slight a slight twisting of the mustache. But he does a slight a slight bit of twisting of the mustache because he doesn't have and I'm not going back into the movie I'm like, but for him, it's a game. And that and that's what moves and motivates him is like, oh, there's a new poem on the table on the on the chessboard, and that's, that's Somerset and Somerset. I'm Brad Pitt's character. And I'm gonna play with him. Now, that happens midway through the movie, you know, Midway, like, oh, okay, now the game has changed. And again, once that middle midpoint is a point of no return, it doesn't. That you can't go back now. Oh, no, no, john doe knows who you are. You're screwed. You can't go back. It's such a great,
Will Hicks 1:28:24
yeah. And oh, yeah. And it's the right thing for the film. But kind of going back to that midpoint, that's something you know, we talked about it from a structural perspective, you know, I refer to it as the apex or the big twist, where the film will flip on its head, just to kind of refresh this the narrative halfway through, because you know, movie can be long. And if you're hitting the same beats over and over again, it can feel really redundant and slow. And so watch, watch that 60 minute marker, watch that Apex beat that middle point of the film, and you'll see where they'll twist it just to you know, kind of revive the second act and add additional complications that'll lead into the third. Yeah, so yeah, no moment.
Alex Ferrari 1:29:06
It No it isn't. You start analyzing all the movies that are haven't had any success in the world. In the cinema history, they all have that midpoint. There is a point where the character can't go back to the ordinary world if we're using Joseph Campbell's, or terms. There is that point where you're like, Okay, I've now crossed the threshold. I can't go back even if I wanted to, I can't go back. So that that perfect example and seven. Once john knows who Brad Pitt's character is, there's no going back now whether he wants to or not, it's over. Now. It's gonna go it's gonna go down this road. And and that you need that as a story in the story. You do need that point where at any moment, that first half the character glucose, you know what, because before before he meets john doe, john doe sees who he is. He says, You know what, I'm just going to drop out of this case, it's just too hard I don't want to deal with this anymore. He could leave, arguably, for once john doe knows it's over, you can't go back. It's now out of your control in it. And what's the midpoint in Star Wars? I am trying to figure it out, let it off the top of my head, I can't remember. But there's a midpoint where Luke, I think it's been Luke goes off with with lb one. I think that's the point where like, you know, when that when that when the farm burns, like he can't go back home, there's the whole bird. So that's the point where like, well, guess I gotta go down this way.
Will Hicks 1:30:30
Yep, I only have one path left. And I have to pursue it and have to follow it. And yeah, it's one of the things that you know, when you think about different structures and different ways to approach your story, and storytelling as a whole. And I'm a fan of what I call a structural overlay, which are two structures laid on on on top of each other. And one is that Hero's Journey structure that we've been discussing. And another is what I call a turn structure, which is more of a character based structure. And it's the idea that through the pursuit of the plot of solving the plot, we reveal who this character is, what their flaw is what they have to deal with internally. That's that internal storyline. And if we really want to look at story in a very broad sense, or cinematic narrative, in a broad sense, I would maintain it's the external force of plot against the internal force of character. And these two things colliding. And it, that midpoint is where that that internal storyline starts to come up to the surface where we can see it and get at it, we may have caught it, we've hinted at it prior to, but now it's like, oh, in order to solve the plot of the film, whatever it may be, I'm going to have to change this aspect of my character. And there's the characters arc is what is presented there. So it really is two structures kind of laid on top of each other. And one is what I would maintain. Even things like save the cat, if you were to look at that, that approach in that storytelling model. It's kind of taking those two structural paradigms and spelling out what happens at the at those junctures there. But it really is those two things, that's a source material for all of it's kind of cool. But those two, those two structures that I just discussed, overlaid on top of each other one is telling you the plot storyline, and one is telling you the character journey inside.
Alex Ferrari 1:32:25
Very, very cool. Um, you know, we've been going on and on, this has been a fantastic conversation, and we can continue to talk about stuff forever. I have a feeling. But I also wanted to bring attention to your book, The screenwriters workout. Now, when I first saw the title for this, I was like, This is interesting. And and then when I started digging into a little bit of like, Oh, no, like he's talking about reps. He's talking about sets. Like this is like for a writer. So can you talk a little bit about the screenwriters works workout?
Will Hicks 1:32:55
Oh, sure. So that was that was the thought process. You know, it's thinking about magic mentioning earlier that Oh, yeah, I tried just about everything else I could other than film. And so I was a science major exercise physiology.
Alex Ferrari 1:33:10
Will Hicks 1:33:12
Okay, so it's like, yeah, there's the connection. But when you think about any sort of performance, sport, if you will, or even a performance art, you know, you go to the gym and you strengthen certain muscles, a strengthen certain aspects, so that you can use those in the pursuit. So as a football player, I need to, you know, be able to be very strong, so I can push the line of scrimmage and tackle someone or run through a tackle or something like that. And for me, I was like, why screenwriters can do the same thing? It's not that no, obviously we get we get better by reading screenplays, writing screenplays, and doing all those things. But we can also strengthen the skill sets that we go to gym and hit the equipment. And so what I tried to do is create a gym for screenwriters, where you can go there and strengthen certain aspects of your craft to improve your storytelling essentially. And so that was kind of the core approach to it. And then what I realized is, as I was going through the book is crap, I gotta do all I have to teach all this stuff, in order for the later lessons to make sense. So the first part, you know, has quite a bit of theory that's going behind it, so that you can get to some of the activities and exercises later on. That should strengthen your storytelling craft. A lot of these were honed in my classes. And so what I would do is try different exercises on my students that that as an evil scientist or anything, but like, hey, try this and see if it helps. And so I was able to kind of glean which ones seem to improve their storytelling to a high degree. And so then I tried to incorporate those into the book as well. And so it's kind of a combination of those two, two things. Some exercises are really, you know, kind of, you know, if you were a soup, what would you be like, what does this have to do with screenwriting? But what I'm trying to do is strength is stretch your mind in terms of understanding the metaphoric connections. In between the actions that characters take, versus the things we can see on the screen, you know, if they're eating a bola terrible example, eating a bowl of alphabet soup, I mean, everything on that screen has meaning to us. So we're trying to look for meaning in those in those elements. And so I tried to put together a book that would explore and strengthen those skills, in addition to your storytelling chops as a whole. Looking at it from a structural perspective, from a character design perspective, like I said, I'm big into design, I think most of the issues that we find in a screenplay are based on a faulty design right from the get go. And to not be overly eloquent about it, it's kind of like what I would call a chocolate covered turd. You know, it looks great. It's got you know, raspberry sprinkles on it, and it's all singles awesome. And then you take a bite and it's like, I got a mouthful of crap. And it's no fault of the writer per se. It's just the design the story wasn't designed from the get go to really work together and fit together, the elements don't quite go together right? And so no amount of artistry, no amount of of craft can can resurrect it. It's just doomed right from the get go. And so there are elements, you know, talking about that in the book as well. Just trying to really get it story design, in designing your story right from the get go and then providing you know, a lot of the other soft skills that go into screenwriting.
Alex Ferrari 1:36:28
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What are three screenplays that every screenwriter should read?
Will Hicks 1:36:35
Me and your other guests gave us a really good ones. Let's see. I'll try to pick some that perhaps might not be quite so obvious. The Devil Wears Prada.
Alex Ferrari 1:36:49
Crispy quit. Yeah, it is. script. So yeah, that'll that'll be one. My best friend's wedding. Another great script.
Will Hicks 1:37:02
I'll pick that one. In particular, that one for how the screenwriter named Ron bass. How he puts his acting description just kind of really cool. And then Okay, lethal weapon.
Alex Ferrari 1:37:17
Oh, well Shane Black Of course. He's just I mean just just for just for the descriptions alone It's the scripts are amazing.
Will Hicks 1:37:26
Yeah, and if you and if you want to stay in Shane Black world, I might suggest last boy scout the original set up that one via
Alex Ferrari 1:37:32
the original one. He was a surfer and not daymond Wayne's
Will Hicks 1:37:37
Oh, no. The the the script itself I think if you read the actual description in there it's it's it's a further distillation of lethal weapon. And and I pick those for different reasons. But most of them have to do with words on the page. Yep. And just how you how you create a movie on the page because it's not the easiest task to do.
Alex Ferrari 1:37:58
And if you What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today? Know your craft ultimately, it's all gonna boil down to that you know, right good or, but oh my god, that's a T shirt. That's a T shirt. Right good or?
Will Hicks 1:38:16
Yeah, most most of my lessons are like bumper stickers or like come on. Are means no No, no seriously it's know your craft hone your craft when you think you know it. You don't keep working at it. It's it takes so long to master the skill sets. It really does. And I think film school it's really cool. It serves a purpose of getting you further along that journey than perhaps you would do on your on your own. But it really is boiling down to a good story well told vibrant characters they will they will find out they will find out so find a home let it second guess the marketplace cuz you're gonna be behind
Alex Ferrari 1:38:54
every time every time. Yeah. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life? I don't know. I'm still learning. No. structure is not formula. Yeah, exactly.
Will Hicks 1:39:12
There was you know, young younger me if I look back, it's like to Yeah, okay. You're trying to be this artistic Putz? Like, no, I'm a bus wreck. No, nobody's above the craft. Nobody. As soon as a filmmaker thinks they're above the craft. They just ended their career. Yeah, happen. Hitchcock. Sorry. But happens to a lot of filmmakers. But no one is above the craft. It is. It's, I think a beauty once you see it. But that would be the one lesson. It's just like, yeah, it's not just because it's a structural paradigm. It's not a formula. There's reason for structure. And it's kind of cool that way. And once you understand the reasons I'm kind of a why guy. It's like, Well, you know, versus we need conflict and film. You know, and I'm like Terminator. You know why? You just do why, you know, I keep asking In the same thing, it's like, oh, here's why. And you start to understand their reasons why certain things happen in movies. And it's, you know, you can try to reinvent the wheel, and it's totally cool. I can appreciate the impulse. But ultimately that wheels got to roll. If you reinvent the wheel and it doesn't roll, it's not a wheel. And and so, you know, sometimes in our in our well intention of, hey, I want to do things different in original and certainly that would that would describe, you know, how I wanted to approach the page. It's understanding, there are certain reasons why certain things happen in a film. And it's now you provide your originality to that provide the originality to the content on the certainly the form. And it's a long answer. Fair enough. But yeah, hopefully you can glean something out of it.
Alex Ferrari 1:40:50
And three of your favorite films of all time.
Will Hicks 1:40:54
Oh, I think we already discussed them. Star Wars. You got that one. That one? I'll just have to list. It's funny before the class I hadn't watched it in years. It was kind of back to what you were talking about. So Star Wars. Life is beautiful.
Alex Ferrari 1:41:12
Yeah, it's beautiful. I like the fact that it holds emotion. And then seven summer another and you can't go wrong with any of those at all. Well, man, thank you so much for taking all the time out. I know you have your busy schedule. You were in between classes right now. So I do appreciate you taking the time. It has been an absolutely enjoyable conversation about the craft and and hope we could do it again sometime. But thank you so much for dropping these knowledge bombs on our tribe today. So I appreciate it, my friend.
Will Hicks 1:41:47
Well, thank you and do it again.
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