Thursday, August 28, 2008

Football... back, in the states. And as a tribute I want to give you a metaphor about writing a screenplay.

To set it up, a football drive consists of a series of plays that are all designed with the end goal of scoring a touchdown. However, in that there are many smaller battles to score first downs. Every four downs, the offense has the opportunity to move the ball ten yards. If they make it ten yards, they have another set of downs, and thus another chance to score. This is truly what sets football above and beyond a sport like soccer. In soccer, the goal is to drive the ball down the field in one play and score. The conflict comes in the end of the game with the final score.

So, what makes football so much more dramatic than soccer on a minute by minute basis? IMHO, it's the drives. See, if football was set up to have to score a touchdown on 4 plays, much of the conflict would be gone.

Instead, we are riveted to EVERY ten yards. Every play could get another set of downs, every down could be an interception, every down could be a touchdown. Which is what keeps us coming back.

And now, to tie it back to filmmaking...think of your script as a scoring drive. If you scored on a hail mary pass on the first play, yes it would be interesting for a moment, but the true drama comes from the conflict and after the initial exhilaration is gone, the audience asks WHAT NEXT. The drama comes from every mistake, every failure, that leads to the players lining up and running it again. Football players are truly dramatic figures, great heroes, because they constantly fail, but they get up and find a way to do it again.

So, you see, with the GOAL in mind of a touchdown, your characters need to focus on the drive, getting the next play a little further down the gridiron. And, when they get sacked for a loss, have them pick themselves off and get back in the huddle.

God, I LOVE football. Anyone else?


So, over the past two days I've had an abnormal amount of synopsis which did not follow the standards of what a synopsis should look like. This got me to thinking, and if these people are so wayward in their definitions of a synopsis, maybe some of my readers have the same problem.

So, what is a synopsis. A synopsis:

4. Definite the characters in the story
3. Give a backbone to the script
2. Tell the story
1. Make the audience WANT to read the whole script.

1. Make the audience WANT to read the whole script.

Basically, what you are trying to do is make the reader buy into the idea of the world you have constructed. If you have a script, this is basically the one page definition of your story. Hit all the high points, taking out all of the other stuff. Outside of your logline, it is the most simplified version of your story. After reading a synopsis the reader should WANT to read further.

2. Tell the story

Some questions the synopsis should answer are:

-Who are the main characters? (Capitalized the first time they are introduced, always with a description)
-What do they want?
-How are they impeded from getting that goal?
-What is the inciting incidents of the story?
-What are the conflicts of the story?
-What are the BEATS of the story? (The critical points that introduce another internal or external conflict, the points that move the story along.)

These are some questions that need NOT be answered:

-What is the backstory of the characters? (a little bit is okay, a sprinkle, not a dallup)
-What are the clinical definitions of terms and why are the important to the story?
-What is the five page backstory of the fictional setting of this story?
-How will this carry into further episodes? (for a TV series)
-Why this story is important?

Any important information relating to further defining the character should be answered in a COVER LETTER or a PRODUCTION BIBLE, of THE SCRIPT.

The only thing the synopsis should do is to TELL THE STORY. It is a one page hand-out of the STORY of the movie/show/book. It should be NARRATIVE, not EXPLANATORY. Let me FEEL the story, because that's how I know if I want to read more.

3. Give the backbone of the script

How is my script different from the other 100 million scripts out there. The example I've been using recently is:

Halo 3, Gears of War, Doom are all the same game. They are about an elite military unit that has to kill aliens. There is nothing new about the story. Video games have been made about it for 20 years, and will be made about them for the next 20. However, what was DIFFERENT about the games was the story behind the game. How THIS military unit differed from THAT military unit. How THESE aliens were different from THOSE aliens.

To give you a different example from film, pick out three RomComs from your DVDs and tell me how they are different from each other. Each is about a guy who falls for a girl or a girl who falls for a guy. The only thing that makes any of them different is the story. It's about two people falling for each other, but HOW is yours different from mine. That is what a synopsis, logline, and treatment do for your project. What makes your script DIFFERENT. Because otherwise, it's the same.

So, a synopsis has to give why this script is different, and specifically what moments, beats, in the script make it different. A logline is meant to give a gist of a story for an elevator pitch. However, a synopsis has to lay out in broad terms how the story will be executed towards a logical conclusion.

4. Define the characters of the story

To a lesser extend, the reader needs to connect with the characters, to understand their motivation and want to follow them on this journey. If the characters are not believable, their motivation not compelling, no one will be able to follow their journey, much less want to invest in their character.

So, there it is. Make sure it's one's not a treatment, tighten it up, and make it sing. Remember, it's about the STORY, not the BACK-STORY.