First, Write the Ending

The ancient Chinese military leader, Sun Tzu: “Begin with the end in mind.

Screenplays That Get Produced
“If you want to write screenplays that you can sell and get produced, you might want to consider writing your ending first. What? Yeah, well, check movies out that get produced. You know, those you pay $8 to $10 to see in the theater depending upon where you live and what time of the day and week you go to see them, and then read about the millions of dollars they made at the box office each weekend.

The Main Character
In almost every one of these movies, inevitably, the end is the defining moment in top box office movies. It is where the main character experiences an epiphany. The main character is challenged to confront and conquer his fatal flaw or go down to defeat. If you want to write screenplays that you can sell and get produced, you must build your screenplay to this moment in the movie. The tension must be wound so tightly that it feels as though everything is going to pop, like the drawn string releasing from a bow. SNAP!

The Villain/Antagonist
How can you create this kind of tension that is so necessary in great drama unless you know where you are going in your screenplay? The villain (in fiction, the villain represents evil) or the antagonist (in fiction, the antagonist can represent someone or something that is not evil, but who or what is competing with your main character or protagonist for the golden ring) must represent your main character’s fatal flaw. In other words, what your villain or antagonist seeks or has is what your main character has been seeking to overcome (your main character’s goal)throughout your screenplay. So, you must have your main character defeat the villain or antagonist in order to overcome his fatal flaw and win.

Movie Example
The movie, “Ransom”, starring Mel Gibson is one of many examples. Mel Gibson plays a good person. His son is kidnapped by an evil man. Through a series of events, Mel’s character has to become less and less nice with others if he is to save his son until he is confronted with defeating the kidnapper or losing his son forever. He is forced to kill the kidnapper, and in true Hollywood fashion, not only kill him, but obliterate him. Not that I condone this kind of violence in movies, because I don’t, but the example is there. When Mel’s character finally overcomes his “niceness”, it is only then that he saves his son.

Another Movie Example and Character
Another example, in “Warriors of Virtue”, a $56 million MGM movie for which I was a writer/consultant, Ryan, the main character seeks to conquer his disability, he wears a brace on one leg. In order to accomplish this, he has to overcome his fear of being too weak to succeed in physically achieving in entity. It all happens in the climax when he is confronted by evil itself, Komodo. Will Ryan win, or will Komodo win? It all circulates around Ryan’s disability which is really in his mind even though he has a disabled leg. Komodo wants to destroy to Ryan. How will Ryan escape? Or can Ryan stand his ground and defeat Komodo?

9 Writers and 4 Producers
How did nine writers and four producers arrive at this ending/climax? By determining beforehand how we wanted the movie to end. We spent days and weeks obsessing over this. The question was, what was Ryan’s goal and how does he achieve it? How could we attract an audience and incorporate this story idea? A teen boy. Did he smoke? Shoplift? Beat up other kids? Or run away from fights? Was he physically strong or physically weak? What kind of boy was Ryan? With his disability, we knew we had to come up with something that gave him no possible way to achieve his goal because that’s what high concept movies are all about, to have the main character overcome all odds and win. One of the producers came up with the suggestion that Ryan is afraid of life because of his physical disability.

Character Transformation
How could we write a story where he could learn how to overcome his fear of life because he is physically disabled, and thus, inept with respect to physical activities of most all teen boys? Well, I suggested, let’s first look at how he will be after he wins at the end of the movie. I suggested we create a character transformation arc. In order to this, I suggested that we take Ryan from a fearful boy to a confident young man. Between that kind of beginning and that kind of ending, I suggested we build the arc. So, I asked, how will Ryan defeat his fatal flaw and Komodo?

The Ending/Climax
The producers told us to each write the ending/climax. A combination of endings appeared. It wasn’t easy. Actually, writing the ending first felt like trying to empty the Pacific Ocean with a coffee cup. After several hours of musing over the endings which the writers wrote, the producers sent off two writers to write the screenplay with a couple of endings they selected. Eight months later, they called me to rewrite their draft. The first thing I looked at was the ending. The first thing I did was rewrite was the ending.

“Warriors of Virtue”
Three years later, “Warriors of Virtue”, was released in over 2,000 theaters in the United States. The Sunday afternoon I slipped into the theater with my wife to see the movie, the theater was packed with kids and parents. I watched the audience more than I watched the movie that Sunday afternoon, particularly when the ending/climax appeared. Guess what, I felt a special thrill when I noticed the audience sliding closer and closer to the edge of their seats as Ryan’s transformation evolved. At the end/climax, many of them crouched from their seats to cheer Ryan on as he defeated his fear and Komodo in a most unusual way. It was at that point I was convinced that writing endings first in my screenplays is one way to write screenplays that sell and get produced.

Donald L. Vasicek

Award-winning, writer/filmmaker, Donald L. Vasicek, dimensionalizes Olympus Films+, LLC’s services. He will bring you 35 years of writing and film making experience. Need to put your project together in a coherent fashion, but are stuck! Your storyline is rocky! What shots are you missing? Does your theme escape you, runs like an Olympic sprinter, away from you? Whatever else needs repair so that you can move to the next level in your film, you will benefit by contacting Mr. Vasicek at dvasicek@earthlink.net or 303-903-2103. Rates, fees negotiable.

PAMELA'S FALCON

PAMELA’S FALCON

“Anatomy of Page One of Screenplays That Get Produced”

by
Donald L. Vasicek
dvasicek@earthlink.net

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.

“Hollywood Openings”

by

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
Writing/Filmmaking/Consulting
http://www.donvasicek.com
dvasicek@earthlink.net

In order to write, sell, and get your screenplays produced
in Hollywood, you need to write openings that Hollywood
utilizes to attract audiences. When you watch movies
produced by studios and mainstream production companies
and producers, what do you usually see in the opening?
If you’re stumped, the first thing you usually see is
movement.

This could be movement across a body of water with the
POV of the camera aimed at a skyline of a city, or someone
walking, someone running, a moving vehicle, etc. Images of
movement help pull the audience into the movie in order to
get them into the movie, like they’re really in the movie, to
make them feel like they’re part of what is going on in the
movie.

Openings also include a metaphor that defines what
the main theme of the movie is going to be, introduces the
main character, defines the character’s main problem to solve
in the movie, of his/her goal, and the setting. And this should
all be accomplished on page one of the screenplay.

In my produced screenplay, “Born to Win”, the opening shows
a butterfly fluttering away from a headstone. A boy cleans
the headstone. He weeps. He rubs the headstone with a cloth
beyond that of cleaning it. The movement is the butterfly
moving away. It shows the defining theme of the movie, which
is “letting go.” The main character, the boy, is holding onto his
dead mother. The setting of scene, a cemetery, exacerbates the
theme of letting go. This movement also shows the metaphor
for the movie of letting go.

The boy must let go before he can move on with his life
regarding his mother’s untimely death and he does
it by driving his mother’s race car in a race to win $25,000 for
an operation to save his Gramps’ life. In the end, it’s either
let go of his Gramps, or continuing his fatal flaw of holding
onto to something that he should no longer hold onto.

When you write screenplays that you want to sell and get
produced, study openings of movies that Hollywood produces.
You will see that the most successful of these movies (box
office, DVD and rental sales, Internet streaming, etc.) contain
elements which include movement, metaphor, defining theme,
main character, and setting. Craft these elements into your
screenplays, and you’re off to a great start with writing
screenplays that you sell and get produced.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
Writing/Filmmaking/Consulting
http://www.donvasicek.com
dvasicek@earthlink.net