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Thursday, October 25, 2007

One More Time, with Feeling.

By Margaux Froley Outhred

The Rouge Wave/Script Whisperer Team is off the the Screenwriters Expo this week. I'll be at a networking party tonight meeting new writers and colleagues. I'll be wearing a purple jacket if any of you are out and about the Expo tonight...always love meeting Rouge Wavers.

I recently finished a script and am now tackling the difficult task of thinking, Now what? I’ve received notes, completed a rewrite, and feel confident enough to put that script aside and move onto the next project. But, which one? And that’s assuming I have the luxury of an abundance of ideas at the moment. So I found myself doing what any other writer might do with trying to come up with an idea quickly….I read a book about writing. Great distraction: claim I’m honing my craft; buy some time to hope a descent nugget of an idea springs to mind in the meantime. And luckily I learned something. (whew.)

This book encouraged me to mine my personal experiences to find material to write about. That’s the obvious part, bear with me a second longer. The thing that was new was once I picked an experience, I was supposed to write an image from that experience in the middle of my page and then circle it. This was the trick…don’t write down the story of what happened, right down the image that comes to mind first. This whole exercise is about capturing the sensory experience of something, and by doing that I found that I could depict a potentially universal emotional moment without resorting to tried and true clich├ęd images. How many more times do we need to see depressed women eat ice cream out of the carton? Or quirky lovebirds meet by spilling coffee on each other?

I heard a story years ago about a screenwriter and his girlfriend. They went to the premier of his big new movie and there on the screen, in a tender moment between the male and female leads, was the same tender moment she had shared with the screenwriter boyfriend. My first instinct was, good for the writer for recognizing a tender REAL moment when he had one, and then I thought, ohhhh, he should have told her he borrowed from their life to make a buck. But, again, it is these small moments that really happen between human beings that make help movies touch and inspire audiences around the world. (And this film, did very well internationally too.)

The ability to make the universal relatable is a very tough skill, but one that screenwriters must master if they want to connect with their audience. And really, the key to that is finding these original moments, they don’t all have to be tender ones, that can take an audience into the world you are creating. Shane Black did it in the first DIE HARD script. When he made a barefoot Bruce Willis walk across an office covered in broken glass, the audience felt that. It wasn’t just a good plot point, it was a visceral experience for everyone. Both of the moments I’ve used as examples here were part of tremendously successful action films; how crazy (or maybe tremendously indicative of my point here) that these small moments can give depth to movies that hinge their entertainment value on explosions and stunts. Stunts and explosions are only fun if we have some investment in the characters who are doing them. If we, as writers can tap into that human experience, our human experience, even the smallest of moments specific to us, we can make them seem universal. Just don’t forget to tell your girlfriend.

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Eddie said...

Shane Black?

Your points are still well taken.:-)

Anonymous said...

It it acknowledged insider info that Shane Black wrote (the 1st draft of) Die Hard? I've never heard that before.....?