The Fundamentals of Screenwriting and Storymaking for Writers and Filmmakers by James Bonnet

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  • 7/31/2019 The Fundamentals of Screenwriting and Storymaking for Writers and Filmmakers by James Bonnet

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    introduced me to Leonard Stern, the Executive Producer, who referred me to Bochco.So Bochco had never seen my work and had no idea what I could do. We had a meeting, discussed a couple of ideas, butnothing happened.

    Then one day, while I was in my kitchen making some coffee, a thought popped intomy head and on an impulse I called Bochco.

    Whatve you got? he asked, after the usual amenities.

    Susan gets lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

    I love it, he said. Ill get back to you.

    Ten minutes later he called me back and said: I hope you can write. Youve got adeal.

    Now, as it turned out, Bochco had called the producer, who loved it and told Bochcoto call their contact at NBC. Bochco called the contact and the contact called hissuperior, and pitched it to him. Then the contact called Bochco back and Bochcocalled me. All within less than ten minutes.

    It was the highest paying show on television, and at that moment, Susan gets lost inthe Bermuda Triangle was the sum total of what I knew about that story idea.

    The High Concept is an important part of both the beginning and the end of theprocess. In the beginning, it is a powerful seed that can help you both create and sellyour story. At the end of the process, it is the face you will put on the story when you tryto market it. Its what the public will see on the book jacket or movie poster. And hereagain, your mission has to be accomplished in very few words. So what were talkingabout is going to be useful in both the front and the back ends. And it would be nice toknow up front that you have a concept that can be marketed.

    Part Two

    There are four elements that can help you accomplish this goal -- The FASCINATING

    SUBJECT, The GREAT TITLE, The INCITING ACTION, which is the problem of your story, andThe HOOK, which reveals the uniqueness or special circumstances of your story.

    Well begin with The FASCINATING SUBJECT

    What is a fascinating subject? A fascinating subject is just that, a subject that is in itselfintriguing. The story arouses our interest just because of the subject. Thats a tremendousasset.

    Not long ago, I walked into a bookstore. I walked past the first table and a book

    caught by eye.I walked another 20 steps, stopped and went back. The title that caught my eye was:Cleopatras Secret Diaries . The thought of learning the intimate secrets of one of theworlds most famous lovers was very intriguing to me.

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    What are some of the subjects that have worked in the past? Demonic possession,money, sex, power, dinosaurs, UFOs, scandalous love affairs, serial killers, extraterrestrials, cloning, survivors, eternal youth -- Im sure you can think of many others.

    Some of my favorites are: justice and honor, immortality, secret societies, and lost

    treasure. Also mysteries and mummies, which are subjects that have fascinated mesince I was a child. Give me a mystery in a pyramid and it can be Indiana Jones,Brendon Fraser, or Donald Duck, and Im hooked. I cant resist it.

    So its important to find the subjects that really fascinate you and will fascinate theaudience you

    are trying to reach. In any event, its helpful if your story is about something that is initself

    intriguing.

    Finding the fascinating subject is one of the things that forces you to discover what thestory isreally about.

    What is a GREAT TITLE? A great title is a title that not only tells you what the story is about what the fascinating subject is -- it reveals the genre, which is to say, it whets your appetite for the type of feelings associated with that genre. The feelings associatedwith a thriller, a mystery, a love story, an adventure, and so on. Each of these differentgenres evoke a different emotional adventure.

    Magic is a good subject. Merlin is a good title for a story with that subject becauseMerlin is associated with that event.Doomsday is another popular subject. Armageddon is a good title for that subject. Weimmediately know its about the end of the world and all of the activities and feelingsrelated to that event.Catastrophes. What better title than: Titanic ?Lost civilizations. Atlantis says it all.Murder. And this is one of my favorites: The Black Widow not a great movie but agreat title.

    Some other good titles are: Shakespeare in Love . Im interested. The Perfect Murder . Isaw it.The Sixth Sense, Roswell, ER, Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider, Star Wars, Gladiator,

    Jurassic Park, The Mummy, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire . I bought it.

    A new film thats about to open is called: Original Sin . On the movie poster AntonioBanderas and Angelina Jolie relate to each other with suggestive intimacy. The captionreads: "Lead Us Into Temptation." If thats your kind of thing, you dont have to knowmuch more than that.

    The words of a good title are words like Titanic, Roswell , and The Sixth Sense that havecome to be associated with significant events of a particular subject. And it helps theaudience identify the type of emotional experience they can expect.

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    What, in my opinion, are some terrible titles? About a year ago there was a fairly wellpublicized

    film called Illtown. What am I going to feel when I see that movie? Sick?Replacement Killers . That didnt excite me very much.Hollow Man . It was about an invisible man. Thats one of my favorite subjects, but that

    titleleaves me absolutely cold. What does it mean? These are important considerations.

    Finding a great title forces you to discover the subject and the genre -- the source ofthe feelings experienced by the audience. You know its a great title when it tells youeverything desirable to know up front. When you find a great title, it hits you like arevelation. You get very excited. And if you have a great title and a fascinatingsubject, you are half way there.

    The third element is The INCITING ACTION. The inciting action is the onset or the causeof the problem. It is the cause of the action. It is the reason action has to be taken.

    An asteroid the size of Texas is about to collide with the earth. Action has to be taken. Ithas to be destroyed or diverted.

    A serial killer is loose in the neighborhood. Action has to be taken. He has to be caught.

    A baby is left on a doorstep. It has to be properly cared for.

    An invading army has to be confronted and defeated.

    An erupting volcano has to be escaped from.

    A man-eating shark has to be destroyed.

    A raging fire has to be put out.A terrible disease has to be cured, and so on.

    You will know it is an inciting action if action has to be taken -- if there is a problem andsomething has to be done about it NOW.

    Finding the inciting action forces you to come to terms with the problem of your story.And stories are about problems. It is a prerequisite in all stories. You have a problemand that problem is resolved. It is one of the essences of story that without which therewould be no story. No matter how big or small the story, it will be focusing on aproblem. And everyone in that story will somehow be involved in that incident. Andeverything everyone does in that story will in some way effect the outcome of thatincident.

    Revealing how that problem was created and how it can be resolved is at the heartand soul of a story.

    The HOOK is a unique aspect of the problem which suggests intriguing possibilities. It is aspecial circumstance surrounding the problem that raises the stakes and increases our interest.

    Susan gets lost, not in the mall but in the Bermuda Triangle.

    A volcano erupts, not in the desert but in the middle of the city.

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    A baby is left on the doorstep, not of a kindly nanny but of three bachelors.

    Star-crossed lovers meet, not at a church social but on the Titanic.

    A woman is kidnapped and her husband refuses to pay the ransom.

    Satan takes possession of a teen-age girl.

    The HOOK implies a difficulty which makes the threat more dangerous and intriguing.

    In Fatal Attraction , a successful lawyer has an affair, not with your average other woman but with a beautiful psychopath.

    Finding the hook forces you to come to terms with what is unique about your story. It isthe unique aspect which will make the idea fresh. You identify the problem andemphasize the difficulty.

    So these are the four elements. The FASCINATING SUBJECT, the GREAT TITLE, theINCITING ACTION and the HOOK. All of which can be expressed in a few words. And ifyou are going to create a HIGH CONCEPT or a GREAT IDEA, youll find these four elements very useful.

    The idea here is that you can create a super powerful seed working with theseelements. A seed that will not only help you create a great story, it will help you sell it onthe front and back ends.

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    THE ROLE OF THE PROBLEM IN STORYBy James Bonnet

    In this segment, I would like to discuss the role of the problem in story. Stories are, infact, about problems. It is a prerequisite in all stories. You have a problem and thatproblem is resolved. It is one of the essences of story that without which there wouldbe no story. No matter how big or small the story, it will be focusing on, or related to, aproblem. And everyone in that story will somehow be involvedin that incident. And everything everyone does in that story will in some way affect theoutcome of that incident. And revealing how that problem was created andhow it can be resolved is at the heart and soul of a story.

    In Kiss The Girls and The Silence Of The Lambs a serial killer is on the loose. That is theproblem that has to be resolved. And the solution to those problems will be theprincipal actions that give a unity of action to these stories.

    In Gladiator a tyrant has usurped the Roman Empire, preventing the restoration of theRepublic. In The Sixth Sense a murdered child psychologist is stuck in limbo and thespirits of dead people are haunting a little boys mind. In Independence Day alienshave invaded the Earth. In Star Wars the Evil Empire has taken possession of the galaxy.In The Iliad, the Greek army is being decimated because their bestwarrior has dropped out of the fight. In King Arthur the kingdom is in a state of anarchyand has to be reunified. In Jaws its a shark problem. In The Exorcist its a problem ofdemonic possession. In The Mummy its a mummy problem. In The Perfect Storm its aweather problem. In Jurassic Park its a dinosaur problem. In Traffic its a drug problem.In Armageddon its an asteroid problem. In Indecent Proposal its a temptationproblem. In Erin Brockovich its an environmental problem. Each of these stories andhundreds of others I could name revolve around a problem that has to be resolved.

    Where does this story structure come from? It comes from real life. In real life, aproblem is anything that is contrary to the way we want things to be. It could beanything from finding lost keys or bugs in the pantry to serial killers and invading armies.It compromises the way we want things to be and it has to be dealt with. Action has tobe taken.

    And so it is in story. The same problem-solving structures built into real events becomethe problem-solving structures of story. In real life, an erupting volcano has to be

    escaped from. A serial killer has to be captured. A raging fire has to be put out. A lost or abandoned child has to be cared for. An invading army has to be confronted anddefeated. A man-eating shark has to be destroyed. A terrible disease has to be cured.An airplane with engine trouble has to land safely. And so on.Story has adopted these problem-solving structures. The principals of dramatic actionbeing the laws of action in real life artistically treated.

    Can any problem be a story? Technically, any problem can be a story if its solutioninvolves complications, a crisis, a climax, and a resolution each of which is another essence of story, that without which there would be no story. Generally speaking,

    however, an audience wouldnt be interested in a story about some minor problem likefinding your lost keys unless something truly funny or horrendous, like the end of theworld, would happen if you didnt find them.

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    Story is especially interested in problem solving actions that involve crises criticalevents that threaten life, health, wealth, freedom, love, security, happiness, etc. whiletesting the limits of human endurance and ingenuity.

    Story focuses on problems for the same reason the news only reports the bad thingsthat are happening in the world and not the good because thats where its at.Thats how you get to paradise by eliminating problems. If everything is in perfectharmony and there are no problems to worry about youre in Paradise.

    Thats one of the functions of story: to help guide us to higher, more desirable, lessproblematic states of being. And one of the ways that it does this is by revealingthe truth and nature of problems and their solutions.

    * * * * * * *

    James Bonnet, www.storymaking.com, is an internationally known writer, teacher andstory consultant. He was elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writer's Guild ofAmerica and has written or acted in more than forty television shows and features. Theradical new ideas about story in his book Stealing Fire from the Gods: A CompleteGuide to Story For Writers And Filmmakers are having a major impact on writers in allmedia.

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    STORY ALCHEMYThe Fundamentals of Screenwriting and Storymaking for Writers and Filmmakers

    The Importance of the Threat in Great Stories and Its Relation to the Essence of Storyby James Bonnet

    In an earlier segment, we discussed how the threat (the inciting action) was at the very heart

    of the high concept great idea. In this segment well reveal how the threat is related to theproblem,the change of fortune, and the components of the classical structure i.e. thecomplications, crisis, climax, and resolution all of which constitute the very essence of story that without which there would be no story.

    Stories are about changes of state and the problems that bring them about. There is an entityand that entity goes from a desirable to an undesirable condition or the reverse. Or as Aristotleput it: "The proper magnitude (of a story) is comprised within such limits that the sequence ofevents, according to the laws of probability and necessity, will admit of a change from badfortu...