Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of ScreenwritingBook - 1997
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To learn adaptation, study the work of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She is, in my view, the finest adapter of novel to screen in film history. She's a Pole born in Germany who writes in English. Having reinvented her nationality, she's become the master reinventer for film.
Comedy points out that in the best of circumstances human beings find some way to screw up.
When we peek behind the grinning mask of comic cynicism, we find a frustrated idealist. The comic sensibility wants the world to be perfect, but when it looks around it finds greed, corruption, lunacy. The result is an angry and depressed artist. If you doubt that, ask one over for dinner. Every host in Hollywood has made that mistake. . . .
You do not keep the audience's interest by giving it information, but by WITHHOLDING information, except that which is absolutely necessary for comprehension.
In my experience, the principle of antagonism is the most important and least understood precept in story design.
A protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.
If I could send a telegram to the film producers of the world, it would be these three words: "Meaning Produces Emotion."
Not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not photography.
MEANING: A revolution in values from positive to negative, or negative to positive, with or without irony -- a value swing at maximum charge that's absolute and irreversible. The meaning of that change moves the heart of the audience.
"Characterization" is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny: age and IQ; sex and sexuality; style of speech and gesture; choices o home, ar, and dress; education and occupation; personality and nervosity. . . .The totality of these traits makes each person unique. . . . but it is not "character."
"True Character" is REVEALED in the choices a human being makes under pressure -- the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the voice to the character's essential nature.
Beneath the surface. . . who is this person? Is he loving or cruel? Generous or selfish? Strong or weak? Truthful or a liar? Courageous or cowardly? The o n l y way to know the truth is to witness him make choices under pressure to take one action or another in the pursuit of his desire. As he chooses, so he is.
We choose to act based on what life tells us will be the probable reaction from our world. It's only then, when we take action, that we discover necessity.
Necessity is absolute truth. Necessity is what in fact happens when we act. The truth is known - a n d. . . c a n. . . o n l y. . . b e. . . k n o w n - when we take action into the depth and breadth of our world and brave its reaction. This reaction is the truth of our existence at that precise moment, no matter what we believed the moment before. Necessity is what must and does actually happen, as opposed to probability, which is what we hope or expect to happen.
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