Monday, April 12, 2010

Day 4: If You Build It They Will Come

I lead with the well-known quote from one of Kevin Costner's baseball movies (he's done three!!): Field Of Dreams. Kev's character listened to "the voice" and so did I, hence, this Blogspot is my version of his baseball diamond carved out of a cornfield in Iowa. Please, if you haven't seen this film, add it to your list. It's based on a wonderful book called Shoeless Joe, which I managed to buy in San Francisco many years ago, just before watching the Oakland A's beat the Milwaukee Brewers ("What made Milwaukee famous, made a loser out of me" so sang Rod Stewart) at Oakland Stadium one sunny Californian afternoon.

Such things have "come" to pass since the launch of The Hungry Screenwriter: my friend Greg appeared on Saturday morning with homemade Steak & Kidney Pie from Mrs E, next month's rent is taken care of, there have been offers of meals to be shared, scripts to consult on, contacts to network and many, many welcome Blogging tips. Thank you. The Hungry Screenwriter can now turn his appetite to sharing what I've gleaned from my film writing apprenticeship with you. So, let's sit down at the filmic table to share today's delight.

Day #4 Tip: Create a Step Outline
At the risk of boring you senseless, I must let you know that what I'm going to paraphrase now is me channelling Robert McKee; I cannot pass today's wisdom off as my his book, attend one of his seminars, download his stuff from iTunes. What I will do though, is share my experience of creating a Step Outline with you.

Following yesterday's Tip about planning the time available to me, I now embark on a three month process of creating a Step Outline. A Step Outline is made up of the 40-60 scenes or story events that make up the average feature film. A scene or story event is defined as a moment in the screenplay when things go from positive to negative, negative to positive, positive to ironic etc.

An example (I'm going to use Crime films as my examples because that's the Genre I'm working in):very early on in the wonderful Peter Weir movie Witness, John Book (the Philadelphia PD detective played by Harrison Ford) has a young Amish boy (Samuel) in his custody who was the only witness to the shooting of an undercover narcotics cop in the public toilets at the city's main railway station. Book and Samuel are down at the detective's precinct, laboriously plodding through the hundreds of identikit photo's of every known black felon and perpetrator, all to no avail. They take a break and the small boy wanders around the office, cute in his plain Amish clothing. Samuel soon finds himself enchanted by the precinct's trophy cabinet, which houses medals, awards and framed snapshot's of the station's most decorated policemen. Standing in front of the glass cabinet, Samuel's eyes widen as he stares at something. At a desk nearby, John Book catches this and discretely moves over to the boy. Samuel is pointing his small finger, like a gun barrel, at a photograph of a black man in the hall of fame cabinet. He's pointing at a black cop (Danny Glover), obviously a respected and lauded hero. Book gently folds his hand over Samuel's so that no one else in the office sees the boy pointing. John Book knows that they've found their suspect and knows that if they weren't f**ked before, they certainly are now.

At the start of the scene, the criminal investigation is in the positive (+): a crime has been committed and Detective Book has a witness. By the end of that scene, John Book knows that the odds are stacked against them and unless he thinks and acts quickly, they're all going to hell in a hand cart; the criminal investigation has turned to the negative (-). If you're not sure what I mean by this, get the DVD, watch the scene, pause the film and asks yourself why things have turned negative (list the reasons down on a pad). By the way, next time you watch this film, look for a young Aragorn of Arathorn (Vigo Mortensen) in the barn-raising scene.

Over the next three months, I (and you with your story) need to find 40-60 moments that turn, dramatically, like that one for our scripts. To come up with 40-60 screamers as good as that one I and you will probably have to create a pool at least 200 to choose from.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you how you'll collect and store them.

Now The Hungry Screenwriter must meditate on the ironies of life: on Saturday my English football team were relegated from the Premier League. On Sunday, they won through to the prestigious FA Cup Final...the Lord giveth and the Lord surely does take away.


  1. Rog

    Posted a query re crime sub genre on Day 3 that doesn't seem to have come through. Trying again today. Not sure how your daily blog "arrives" at my email either, or if I'm supposed to remember to "follow" you.

    Perhaps I'll start a blog on how to access blogs.

    Best, SBT

  2. what happened to no cash and no food?