The Anatomy of a Produceable Screenplay: Page One

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The Anatomy of a Produceable Screenplay: Page One
By
Donald L. Vasicek

When you watch a movie, what do you usually see in the first minute? A bunch of people jumping around? Or perhaps running? Or a headstone in a cemetery? A slinky woman’s naked cadaver silhouetted against a light? What about the one that skims you over a body of water with the skyline of a city ahead? Whatever you see, has meaning, at least in screenplays that get produced.

There are at least eight elements that should be on the first page of your screenplay if you want to hook your reader into your screenplay, enhance your chances of selling it and having it produced. Learned eyes look for these elements on page one of your screenplay. If they aren’t there, you’ve already got a strike against you in the mind of the reader. What are these elements and how can you write them into the first page of your screenplay?

If you first come up with a metaphor that describes the main theme of your screenplay, then the seven other elements will drop into place much easier. A metaphor that describes the main theme of your screenplay must be visual since film is a visual medium. You don’t want to bore your audience by unleashing talking heads to the audience unless you can pull it off like Billy Bob Thornton did in his Academy Award-winning screenplay, “Sling Blade” and some excellent acting by Billy Bob Thornton and J. T. Walsh.

For example, on page one in my screenplay, “The Crown”, which was produced, the main character, a gangly boy of 12 with a red kerchief as a headband cleans his mother’s headstone in a cemetery. The inscription on the headstone shows the years of her birth and death. A butterfly flutters about the headstone and main character. A shadow creeps over the main character. The butterfly flies away. The main character looks around. He sees a pretty woman. She frowns at him and says, “You have to let her go, Justin Freeman.”

The metaphor (element one)shows a butterfly flying (element two)(movement to draw your audience into the movie) away from a headstone. The metaphor shows the theme (element three) of the movie which is “letting go” which is also stated by the woman. The main character (element four) is introduced. The main character shows what his foremost problem in the movie is going to be by cleaning his mother’s headstone (he will not let go of her)(element five). The setting (element six) the main character is in is a cemetery. We have a sense of direction by knowing where “we’re” starting out in this movie. The time frame(element seven)of the movie is shown by the inscription on the headstone. Now, we have an idea about when this movie is taking place. The main character’s name is given (element eight)when the woman speaks to him. We know now who Justin Freeman is.

These eight elements, metaphor, movement, theme, main character, main character’s foremost problem, setting, time frame, and main character’s name defines “The Crown.” All of this takes place on page one of the screenplay. Translated into movie minutes, this means in the first minute of “The Crown”, eight elements are shown that hook us into the movie.

The first and second elements, the metaphor and movement, cause us unconsciously to wonder why the butterfly is present, is, then exits, means. Something to muse over. The third element, the theme, gives us a subconcious idea about what “The Crown” is going to be about because we see this butterfly hovering over a headstone and a boy, and then fly away as though the spirit of the body in the grave left the grave. Letting go is something the boy is going to have to do if he is to grow as a human being. The fourth element shows us who the main character is. What does the red kerchief wrapped around his head as a headband mean? Is it some kind of identity statement? Perhaps a social comment? We want to learn more about him. The fifth element shows the main character’s foremost problem, he’s into cleaning his mother’s headstone. We know it’s got to be something loving about his connection to someone in the grave. And we know that he can’t go on like this, he’s only a boy. The sixth element, the setting, a cemetery, also is metaphorical. A cemetery is a place where human beings bury human beings who have died. It is a final resting place for them, freed from the bonds of life. The seventh element, the dates on the headstone and name, give us some idea of the time frame of this movie and who is buried in the grave. Being made aware of that visually gives us a source of reference to the main character. The eighth element, the boy’s name, helps us put a name with the boy and link him to the person in the grave. The last name, “Freeman”, also gives a hint of the theme, letting go.

So, the next time you watch a movie, look for elements that hook you into the movie. Make notes. Analyze them the next day. You’ll be amazed at how subtle, but yet, how informative the first minute of well-written movies are. Write your screenplays with the same art and craft and you’ll increase your opportunity to sell and get your screenplays produced.

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“A Writer’s Passion”

Sweet Sally

Sweet Sally


A Writer’s Passion

“The heart of an engaging story resides in the heart and mind of the person writing the story. It is passion and where that passion takes you as a writer.”

So says Don Vasicek, the founder and owner of Olympus Films+, LLC, a global writing and filmmaking company. “This passion is reflected through the writer’s characters and the story. Each character, each location in the story, and each occurrence that takes place in, with and between the characters and in the story, should reflect that passion.

“The Crown, the first screenplay I wrote,” says Vasicek, “is a coming-of-age story about a boy who sets out to win $25,000 in a car race to use for an operation to save his Gramps from dying. The heart of the story emerged from within my heart and mind. I possessed a desire to show how vital love is.”

Driven by a Will to Succeed

“This desire was exacerbated by my will to succeed because I grew up in an environment that rejected my efforts to love and to be loved. The Crown shows how love elevates a boy to success and happiness. That passion still burns very deeply inside of me. It is like a roaring fire and it has been reflected in the heart of every engaging story I have written. Love is my passion. It always results as the heart of the engaging stories that I write.”

Indeed, Vasicek’s passion has lead him to teach, mentor, and consult on scripts for over 400 writers, directors, producers, actors and production companies.

“The Crown went on to win several screenplay competitions,” he says, “snared me a WGA agent, opened other writing doors for me, received a stage reading, and was purchased and produced by Incline Productions Inc. and aired on cable.”

Story: Beyond the Mere Telling to Magic

Vasicek believes all writers should be aware of the difference between showing and telling when writing a story. “The key here,” he says, “is the use of verbs. Write a sentence with a passive verb. For example, ‘The sky is blue.’ Well, that is something all of us know. But, where is the magic? It is absent because the sentence shows no action. The sentence shows no action because the verb in the sentence, ‘is’, is passive. So, what if, instead, the sentence was written with an action verb: ‘Space constitutes a vault over the earth that is blue in color.’ Here, the action verb, ‘constitutes’, imparts information about the sky that goes beyond blue.”

“Look at the usage of verbs in a screenplay or story that you’ve written. What do you see?” Vasicek asks. “I would be willing to bet that those sentences that contain action verbs give you far more confidence that your writing is going where you want it to go than with sentences that contain passive verbs.

“For practice, if you want to improve your writing, take sentences you have written using passive verbs and change those verbs to action verbs. You will find that doing this is hard work. It causes you to think through what you are wanting to accomplish in the sentence.

“The resultant effect is that you will improve the sentence, which embellishes and dimensionalises your story, and you have grown as a writer. This, to me, is taking your writing beyond telling and making it magic because you’re adding heart/passion to what you have written by expanding upon what you have written. Making your writing magic through the use of action verbs deepens your ability to take your writing to the next level.”

Story Elements That Transcend All Media
I asked Vasicek if there are elements of story that transcend all media, even non-fiction and personal branding. “If you watch television commercials (how can we not these days?), you will notice that the good ones eclipse failures non-fiction and personal branding media exhibit because they have a beginning, a middle, and an end to a story.

“Effective TV commercials sustain a theme that holds the story, characters and action together. They contain a main character and they have an antagonist.” Vasicek clarifies that television commercials can have a person or persons or an inanimate or animate object opposing the main character, but unlike in fiction, not a villain because no one wants to involve evil in their TV ads. “Both the main character and the antagonist are seeking the same goal, but the main character is going about achieving it via positive means while the antagonist is doing what he/she can do to succeed via negative means.”

Saving Animals With Detergent

“Dawn soap’s ‘Saving Animals from Oil Spills’ is an example of a cogent commercial. It contains a story, animals and oil spills. The story is oil spills. It has characters. The bad guy is oil spills. The good guy is the animals. The theme is oil spills. The goal of both the main character and the bad guy is to utilize the environment, the good guy for survival, the bad guy for survival (by getting rid of harmful oils into the environment).

“The beginning shows the animals living in their natural habitats with the ever-present danger of oil spills. Oil spills destroy the environment. It kills animals. Their habitats are cleaned up. Animals are released into their natural habitats to live in a healthy environment. The story elements are effectively expressed. The message informs, educates and creates awareness for the environment, animals and soap so that all three can survive, and Dawn sells more soap because its awareness of the environment, oil spills and animals clearly show their concern for a non-toxic environment.

“Elements of story that transcend all media, including non-fiction and personal branding, require a story, a main character with a goal, a bad guy with the same goal, a theme that holds everything together, a literal mixing of oil and water, e.g., ‘Saving Animals from Oil Spills’, which creates conflict, and without conflict, there is no drama, and without drama, everything you write falls flat and will not evolve. So, a mixing of dualities, the mingling of opposites, or a dichotomy seals together the story, the character and the action to take your writing to a level that exceeds what media, even non-fiction and personal branding, spend thousands of dollars striving to achieve.”

About Don Vasicek
Don Vasicek serves on the board of directors of the American Indian Genocide Museum in Houston. He is presently raising money for “Ghosts of Sand Creek”, a mini-series/documentary.

Vasicek studied producing, directing and line producing at the Hollywood Film Institute under Dov Simens and at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. He studied screenwriting at The Complete Screenplay, Inc., with Sally Merlin (White Squall), daughter of the famed Hollywood Merlin family of screenwriters and writers, as his mentor.

Vasicek has written and published over 500 books, short stories and articles. His books include How To Write, Sell, And Get Your Screenplays Produced and The Write Focus.

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Sand Creek Massacre/Silas Soule Featue Film

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For Immediate Release
Centennial, CO, United States of America March 11, 2014
GOLDEN DROVER WINNER TO SHOOT NEW FILM
March 11, 2014 (Centennial, CO) – Donald L. Vasicek, who won the Golden Drover Award for Best Film (Native American) (“The Sand Creek Massacre”) at the Trail Dance Film Festival and also winner at The IndieFest Film Festival and The American Indian Film Festival, has signed a LOI with Iron Violet Films (I.V.F.), a division of the parent company: Iron Violet Productions, to write, direct and produce a feature film along with his film company, Olympus Films+, LLC.

Titled, “The Captain”, it is a story about Captain Silas Soule who risked his own life in his quest to save African­Americans from slavery, and the Cheyenne tribe from annihilation, during the Sand Creek Massacre. I. V. F. is headquartered in Shreveport, Louisiana, also known as “Hollywood South”, where nearly 220 major motion pictures and shows have been shot. It boasts three motion picture studios and sound stages in the region. Broadway producer, Marcinho Savant, is executive producing “The Captain.” I.V.F.’s anticipated film releases include, “The Tracks”, “Birthday Pie”, and “Brookwater’s Curse” with Mr. Savant (CEO) serving as Creative Consultant and Executive Producer.

Savant said, “One of America’s greatest, muted, stains. Some would have it swept away, like so many grains of blood­soaked sand. I’m honored and grateful to be collaborating with Donald on this important film. His passion, has become my own. I’m honored to play some, small, role in telling the truth, for the benefit of the Cheyenne, and Arapaho victims of this horrendous slaughter. Captain Soule was a pioneering Abolitionist who befriended the indigenous people. I suspect he’d be thrilled to know that the truth will, finally, be told.”

Vasicek said, “It is past due time to make a feature film about Silas Soule, let alone the Sand Creek Massacre. Mr. Soule’s bravery and courage to face and elevate himself about the racism and hate that drove people to brutalize, murder, rape, mutilate and terrorize slaves and America’s indigenous people reigns as a shining example of heroism for all Americans and the world. I am honored and blessed to have become part of this film with Iron Violet Films and the talented Mr. Savant.”

Vasicek said an upcoming press release will give an update for the production schedule. The pre­production website address is “The Captain” Movie. Please contact Vasicek via e­Mail, 303­903­2103 or Mr. Savant via e­Mail , 318­402­4697 x 705 for more information.
###
CONTACTS:
Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC e­Mail
303­903­2103
Marcinho Savant
Iron Violet Films e­Mail 318­402­4697, x 705
ADDITIONAL INFO:
1. Information on the Production Partners
2. Information on the Sand Creek Massacre (Inspiration)


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