“How to Establish the Dramatic Premise of Your Screenplay and Beyond”

by
Donald L. Vasicek

“How To Establish the Dramatic Premise of your Screenplay and Beyond”
by Donald L. Vasicek

So, you began your screenplay with a visual metaphor. You’ve introduced your main character, the setting, the time, the theme, and you’re introducing other major and periphery characters. You’re getting to like your story pretty well, when all of sudden you hit a block. What is your story about? This question is asked many times over each day in the film business. So, you’d better be prepared for it.

Your story is about a character who reacts to something that causes him (I’m using the male gender because I honestly haven’t had time to learn how to express both genders when writing articles) to begin acting instead of reacting to what is going on around him. The first step in your main character’s transformation (you’d better have one if you want to sell and get your screenplays produced)is when he reacts to the introduction of the dramatic premise. Until this time in your screenplay, you should have established your main character who should be in a setting and time interacting with other characters who should all be showing (I emphasize “showing” instead of “telling” since all great writing “shows” instead of “tells”) different aspects of your theme. You should have established all of these elements by about page 10 of your screenplay.

On or about page 10 in your screenplay, you show something that occurs that is out of context of what you have set up so far. This turning point in your screenplay is when you have your main character react to something that establishes the dramatic premise of your screenplay. This dramatic premise will be the plot of your screenplay. Something happens to your main character that begins his transformation arc because he is forced to react to something he has been avoiding, but he must react to it until he overcomes it, or his life will never change for the better.

In the $56 million MGM screenplay I was a writer/consultant for, “Warriors of Virtue”, Ryan, the main character is shown in school, with his friends, with his family and how he reacts to these people and this setting. Problem is, Ryan wears a leg brace, a defect in his leg he inherited with birth. Kids push him around. He can’t play on the football team. He argues with his parents. His dog barks at him.

He has a lot of problems until he’s challenged to leap over this rushing water to show other kids that he’s not a wimp. Then, his real problems begin. He leaps and falls into the water. He is swept into an alternate universe where he has to change or he’ll never be able to return to his home. The evil Komodo and his army, a village of “people” and five Kung Fu Kangaroos who need his help stand in his way. This is where his transformation arc begins. This is where the dramatic premise for the movie is established. From this point on, Ryan begins to change, and to never be the same again.

This alternate universe (no different than what your main character should be experiencing at this point in your screenplay)”attacks” Ryan. He survives the plunge, but now he’s being threatened by the evil Komodo’s soldiers in a forest. When some Kung Fu kangaroos rescue him, he begins to see that someone cares about him, and he doesn’t even know why. And miraculously, he discovers that his leg is healed.

Fearful of the village, which is made up of a loving community of people, at about page 45, Ryan foreshadows he is going to be at the end of the movie. He meets a girl, Princess Anne and he isn’t afraid of her. At midpoint, the village is attacked by Komodo and his soldiers. Though fighting valiantly, the Kung Fu Kangaroos are outnumbered. They manage to drive the invaders away, but, they know, that unless they come up with some kind of miraculous idea, Komodo is going to take over the village and kill everyone. And now, Ryan has a stake in the outcome. Where before, he cared little about himself, now, he not only cares about himself, but he cares about Princess Anne as well. But, Komodo has kidnapped her to hold her for ransom in order to force the village leaders to give in to his demands and give up the village (Komodo desires the village because of its love and its peace because this kind of behavior terrorizes him).

At about page 75, Ryan tells the village leaders and the Kangaroos that he believes he can talk Komodo in releasing Princess Anne. Interested, he tells them how.

At about page 90, Ryan, under the protection of the hidden Kangaroos, Ryan confronts Komodo about releasing Princess Anne. Komodo, struck by Ryan’s audacity, challenges him to a duel with swords. Only Komodo knows his soldiers are near to back him up, but unaware of the hidden Kung Fu Kangaroos.

Komodo, by far the superior warrior to Ryan, is about to take off Ryan’s head with his sword, when some of the soldiers show their faces. At that point, the Kangaroos show themselves. An all out battle ensues.

Ryan races to rescue Princess Anne. The battle is so fierce, the out-numbered Kangaroos, are exhausted and about ready to admit defeat, when Ryan, grabs a sword and disarms Komodo. The Kangaroos take over and defeat Komodo’s soldiers. Ryan rescues Princess Anne and saves the village.

In the closing scene, the village priest creates a mystical and spiritual avenue for Ryan to travel so that he can return to his parents and other life. After a tearful goodbye to everyone, Ryan leaves.

Upon his return to the town where he lives, his parents, friends, and the kids in school, see that his leg is healed, and so is Ryan. Even his dog accepts him.

So, you need to take your character on a journey, by establishing the dramatic premise, then roughly timing turning points in the story and in your main character. Page 1, a visual metaphor that defines the theme of the story. Page 3, a line of dialogue, or an action that directly pinpoints the theme of your story. About Page 10, establish the dramatic premise. At about Page 30, something extraordinary should happen that spins your character and story around 360 degrees and sends it off in another direction. At about page 45, foreshadow how your main character is going to be at the end of your story. Just a small action, something your character does to reveal this, like when Ryan meets Princess Anne and he is unafraid of her.

From this point forward, you must have your main character creating all of the action. In other words, he/she must be pro-active in all events. At about Page 60, midpoint, you must show that about all is lost for your main character regardless of the new strength he/she is showing. By about Page 75, have your main character change the way he/she is trying to accomplish his/her goal. At about Page 90 of your screenplay, your main character should have a direct confrontation with the villain (villain represents evil in fiction) or antagonist (doesn’t necessarily represent evil so much as representing the opposing force to your main character’s goal).

This confrontation results in your main character winning and sets up how the story is going to end. For the next several pages, your story should build to a climax where your main character goes nose-to-nose with the villain or antagonist. Here, your main character should have an epiphany. For Ryan, it was his discovery that he must overcome Komodo in order return home to his family and friends. It is here where your main character’s fatal flaw (the flaw that has caused your main character to pursue a solution to it because it is more overpowering than any other flaw)comes to the surface and must be overcome by your main character. With Ryan, it was his fear, and he overcomes it.

After the climax, wrap up all loose ends and end the screenplay as soon as possible.

And there you have it. Nine easy steps to establish your dramatic premise and beyond.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
“Commitment to Professionalism”

http://www.donvasicek.com

dvasicek@earthlink.net

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“The Log Line”

The log line must show what your movie is about. You have about a minimum of five or six words and a maximum of three, five to six word sentences to show it in the log line. The shorter, the better. If you are serious about writing, selling and getting your screenplays produced, then, you must think in terms of writing lean and mean. Lean and mean is the same thing, as the shorter, the better. This attitude will help you write to industry standards and help you hone your craft as a screenwriter.

A key here, is to use active verbs. Use them in your log lines, use them in your synopses, use them in your treatments and use them in your screenplays. The use of active verbs will help you streamline your writing. It will force you to write that show your descriptions and condense your dialogue. Think in terms of writing it with a beginning, a middle and an ending. Think of it the same way as movie trailers you see on television or in the theater. Think of writing the log line paralleling the same method that you read about them in television and movie guides.

Start your log line out with the main character. You should follow that with the description of the plot and end it with a hook that seduces people in wanting to read your screenplay.

An example that has been very successful for me with a screenplay I wrote, CATCHING THE FALL, is as follows: A common Joe races the clock to restore his son back to normal after the boy goes brain dead. Here, you can see who the main character is: A common Joe. The plot is: races (the key active verb) the clock to restore his son back to normal. And the ending hook is: after the boy goes brain dead. So, fix yourself up some potatoes and gravy and get to work on your log line.

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.

dvasicek@earthlink.net, http://www.donvasicek.com, 303-903-2103.
Rates/Fees affordable, negotiable and fair to fit your budget.
Contact him today so that you can move forward tomorrow!

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“Market Ready Screenplays”

Writing screenplays and getting them
sold and produced are highly competitive.
One must write screenplays that are
market ready. To do anything less will
result in failure.

A market ready screenplay requires
dialogue, characterization, format, plot, subplot(s),
action, narrative, description, etc. that must
execute genres which people will go see at the
movie theater.

To write a market ready screenplay, the writer
must study screenplays that have been box
office hits. Once that is accomplished, the
screenwriter should then write their screenplay
that is fresh and unique, but yet, parallels
that of box office hits.

For example, a romantic comedy simply
requires the question, will the couple in
question, get together or not? The
twist here must be unique and fresh. “Must
Love Dogs” starring Diane Lane and John
Cusack exhibits the twist that Ms. Lane is
seeking a man through ads. The require-
ment, he must love dogs. Well, guess
what, Mr. Cusack doesn’t love dogs, but
she falls for him anyway, and on it goes.

Study the genre you’re interested in writing.
Study the format. The writing. Incorporate
a fresh and unique approach to your genre
of interest. This can be accomplished via
a new twist that has never before been
used in the genre of your choice.

Donald L. Vasicek
Writer/Filmmaker/Consultant
Olympus Films+, LLC

http://www.donvasicek.com

dvasicek@earthlink.net