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

“Writing Movies and Documentaries, 101”

The Sand Creek Massacre Movie Poster

Writing of any form requires
study and research. The strength
of any type of writing resides in
the application of what one learns
and research, and then, applies it
by writing, writing, and more writing.
Each time one writes something, they
become a better writer.

It is rare a writer is hired to write a
documentary film. Many documentary films
do not have a script. Those that do, are
usually written by the director/producer
of the film. If a documentary script is written,
then you must write a double column script.

In a double column script you write the
visuals/images in the left column and the
audio/sound in the right column. While
the double-column script can help nail
down the exact shots blended with the
sound, the downside is that it places the
filmmaker in a corner. This corner is
a place that can limit the filmmaker’s
creativity, and virtually eliminate a cinema
verite approach to making documentaries.

As for feature films, short films, etc., one
can learn how to write screenplays through a
variety of ways. No approach to learning how
to write screenplays is inscribed in marble. It
is dependent upon the individual writer. Some take
screenwriting classes. Others study screenwriting
books. Some work with a script consultant until
they have their screenplay market ready. And others
wing it. And still others, utilize a combination of all
of the above.

You can determine what works best for you by knowing
who you are, how you best learn, why you want to write
documentaries, features, etc., and what audience you
want to attract with your work, and why. Answering
these questions will give you insight into what to
write and the approach to take in order how to learn
to write. That is the Zen of Writing.

The fine point of it is if you want to write movies
and/or documentaries, be sure you utilize more
than your passion for the subject matter unless
you are writing, simply, for the joy of writing.
Study and research Hollywood box hits. Study
and research successful documentary films.
Make certain you know, before you begin
writing, what you need to do in order to
write a successful script. Otherwise, you
will enter the world of writer who jumps
in with both feet without being aware of
what the reality of the business. In turn, this
can cause you to go on a journey into
insanity.

Donald L. Vasicek
Writer/Filmmaker/Consultant
Olympus Films+, LLC
http://michaelc.nextmp.net/wordpress
dvasicek@earthlink.net

“The Anatomy of Theme in the Screenplay and Movie”

by
Donald L. Vasicek

What is theme? What does it mean? How does it apply to the screenplay? According to Merriam Webster dictionary, theme is: “A subject or topic of discourse or artistic representation.” In the screenplay, the theme must be introduced as early as possible. It should be introduced, as a visual, if at all possible, by page 3 of the screenplay or minute 3 of the film.

Since film is a visual medium, the screenwriter must strive to visually write. So, showing should take the place of telling in screenwriting. This is vital if you want to sell and get your screenplay produced.

How does one do that? Well, in “Born to Win”, one of my produced and award-winning screenplays, Justin, the main character in the film, has shown on Page 1, through a metaphor, that trust is the theme in the movie. This was visually accomplished in minute 1 of the movie by showing a butterfly fluttering away from Justin’s mother’s headstone. Justin won’t let go of his deceased mother, a problem he exhibits throughout the movie. The butterfly shows, “letting go”, by flying away, as a means for having trust.

On page 3, the theme for the movie is exhibited:

“Callie smiles. She tends the graves. Justin lingers. He notices Charlie’s shadow lengthen over him.

Charlie places his hand on Justin’s shoulder. He guides him towards the car. Justin slips his arm around Charlie’s waist.”

Can you identify the theme of trust in this scene? What visual shows that?

“Justin lingers”? It would work to show trust, with the exception that Justin lingers. It shows that Justin is giving Callie some consideration as someone he can trust. The key to utilizing “Justin lingers” as the theme is identified in the verb, “lingers.” “Lingers” exhibits the possibility of trust, but it does not exhibit trust. So, “Justin lingers”, is not the theme in the movie.

How about “Charlie places his hand on Justin’s shoulder.” There is an indication of trust here. Remember Justin is the main character, so everything should be written and seen from his point-of-view. Here, Justin allows Charlie to place his hand on his shoulder. So, this visual allows the first peek into the theme for the movie, trust, but it is not the theme.

Utilizing the visual approach to screenwriting and movie-making empowers the characters and it empowers the story. Without, the screenplay and/or the movie, falls flat and theaters will not want to exhibit it, let alone distributors picking it to put in theaters.

So, the more visuals the screenwriter can write and the filmmaker can film, the more powerful the screenplay and the movie will be. This, in turn, will create revenue. This, in turn, will create more work for the screenwriter and the filmmaker. That’s the way it works in the movie business.

So, instead of giving examples of screenplays and movies that back up what I am writing here, I will leave that up to you. Look at movies. Study them for the theme, particularly early on in the movie.

And, instead of telling you what visual in my example, “Born to Win”, depicts the theme of the movie, “trust”, you tell me. My email is dvasicek@earthlink.net. I’d love to hear from you.

Your choices are: “He guides him towards the car.” Again another element of trust, or is this the visual that identifies the theme, “trust.”

Or, is it: “Justin slips his arm around Charlie’s waist.”

You tell me. And remember, the theme, once exhibited in the screenplay and movie, must be visually shown in every scene from page 3 of the screenplay and minute 3 of the movie through to the end. If the screenwriter fails to execute the theme this way, then, the screenplay and the movie will fall flat.

And the screenwriter and filmmaker can show opposing views of the theme. For example, in “Born to Win”, Justin learns that the bad guy in the movie is one he should not trust, while the bad guy shows that he doesn’t trust law enforcement, and even his cohort.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
The Zen of Writing/Filmmaking/Consulting
http://michaelc.nextmp.net/wordpress
dvasicek@earthlink.net

John Wayne's birthplace.  Winterset, Iowa
John Wayne's birthplace. Award-Winning Writer/FIlmmaker Donald L. Vasicek/Winterset, Iowa