Thursday, August 03, 2006

Move it Or Lose it!

There has been a lot of posting here at DISContent about the Turkish films featuring Kilink and the Japanese film Golden Bat. Yes, they are both cheesy and cheap and designed to cash in on a comic book hero. They're "bad" movies.
But you can't help but get caught up in whatever is happening onscreen. No matter at what point you jump into the movie, you're there until the end credits...

That's what I like to call momentum.
(maybe other folks call it that too, or even something else entirely. For this little exercise, we're going to call it momentum)

Momentum in a story or movie is like a wave - it pushes you where it wants you to go and gets you there quickly, and there are a few ways to construct momentum in your pulpy script so your audience can ride the wave with you. Momentum is key to having a great DVD Premiere movie, because let's face it, in many cases you don't have the money to throw up onscreen like our theatrical brethren (and sisters). You have to pull the audience in and keep them riding your wave until it hits shore.


I've talked about this before, but I like to keep my low budget DVD Premiere scripts to around 90-95 pages. This allows for a THREE EQUAL ACT STRUCTURE and really keeps the story moving. A lot of screenplays sag in the middle under the weight of the long 2nd Act. By cutting it down to 30+ pages you tighten the story up considerably.

There's another consideration to the 90 page format. It allows for a feature and around 25 minutes of extras (behind the scenes, trailers, photos) to be authored onto a DVD-5 disc - the smallest disc available to put a feature film on and the easiest to replicate.

(In the interest of full disclosure the whole 3 equal act structure idea came from Bill Martell)


There's always fat in a script - those scenes that are shot that aren't necessary and usually end up on the cutting room floor or cut down to almost nothing. Scenes like this include:

Where characters approach a front door and knock
Phone conversations
Driving scenes
Scenes where one character explains - "This is what we are going to do next."

Edit out that "fat" and you have a script (and movie) that really moves. The audience doesn't need fat in their viewing diet - it slows them down and doesn't allow them to catch the wave.


I have a confession. There are moments of Ultraviolet that I like. I know, I know. I shouldn't. It's a bad movie. I don't think it would have been half as bad as it was if they had just followed the old adage of "Show don't tell." Everything was explained in the movie when it didn't need to be. The audience would have picked up on the fact that it's a vampire vs. humans story and the humans are the "bad guys." Audiences are smart. They've seen a lot of movies and know the score - no need to explain the plot.

The narrative and the voice-over just weighed Ultraviolet down didn't it? Which leads us to...


Dialogue should always be kept to a minimum. Not only does it slow down the action (if what's being said doesn't reveal character), but you have to dub it over in an ADR session half the time. There is no "chatter" in a pulp movie. No ruminations on the flaky crust of a croissant or how beer tastes better at breakfast. Our characters wake up and drink a beer and show us it's the breakfast of champions.


Plot twists are a great way to inject momentum into a movie. Audiences get excited when you surprise them, and they re-invest themselves in the story - especially if you can give them a twist they never saw coming, and yet you played "by the rules" and set it up.


So move the camera already! Pick a cool angle to shoot from! Give people a visual feast. Come up with something new (Bullet-time) . All these things mean your story clips along at a good pace with twists and turns (both visually and plot-wise) and then...


A strong emotional component to a story carries a lot of weight with the audience. They will forgive numerous sins if they care about the characters and their trials. Don't make it easy on your characters and heap as much grief and torment as you can upon them. It worked great for The Spider and Nita Van Sloan, and John Carter and Dejah Thoris.

The trick of course, is to not get into melodrama and have drama for drama's sake, but to give your characters inner conflicts that equal their outer challenges. That emotional component is part of the momentum your script should generate.

(And yes, even the "quiet moments" of a movie have momentum. Those moments are when we switch from visual momentum to emotional and dialogue momentum - those moments move the story forward too!)


Don't add stuff on to the end. This is not television. No codas nor epilogues required. No droning on with characters asking each other, "What are you going to do now?"
You can set it up for a sequel - leaving a little "bait" on the hook - but you can't leave people disatisfied. You've told a complete story - period. Goodbye.

# # #
All this stuff is Storytelling 101, but we all need a reminder every now and then - especially me as I tend to get caught up in the visual action and the set pieces and neglect the dialogue and emotional components.
I'm looking at rewriting a script that could best be described as "one big fight movie," but I'm reviewing all of these factors above to make sure that I'm delivering the full whack of story and momentum my audience deserves. In other words - the pulp.


Scott the Reader said...

Good stuff, and things you'd think people would be well aware of already, but they aren't.

Bill Cunningham said...

Everyone needs a reminder. Sometimes you are in a rewrite, and you know something is missing and you can't see it, but damnit it's there...that's when you go through the check list and send out the script to get other opinions...

Jonathan Walter said...

Bill, you have once again amazed me with your knowledge. Please write a book on everything you know.

Aric Blue said...

Excellent advice on all counts! Things you wish you knew you when you shot your first film...(sigh)

Cryptid1 said...

I wish you'd explain your THREE EQUAL ACT STRUCTURE in greater detail. I've scoured Martell's site and can find no mention of it.

I've been reading your blog daily. Thanks for keeping it real.