Let’s talk about connecting to the audience — Why is this important?

Greetings Everyone!

I will be teaching a Webinar for the Writers Store on Thursday, June 25, 2015 1:00 PM / 4:00 PM ET
The Audience’s Connection to a Screenplay: Engaging through Conflict

Screenwriters sign up now for my webinar on June 25 on writing engaging conflict. Use the code CARLA20 to save 20%  bit.ly/EngagingConflict 

At a Glance

Whether you are a novice, intermediate or seasoned screenwriter, this webinar will fuel you with insightful and important information to help you create a story with universal appeal.
Gain a deeper understanding about the fundamental importance of conflict in a screenplay.
Learn how conflict affects the pacing of your story, helps develops your main character, and connects the audience to the hero.

Please note: If you purchase any webinar, you will get a recorded version of the webinar sent to you after the presentation day. So if you can’t attend live, you will still get all the materials.

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Screenwriting is a rigorous process, and for a story to work in this medium the audience must connect to the hero – you must make the audience care! However, this does not come about by giving your character good personality traits. The audience needs to see strength in overcoming; they need to see “reality” through conflict.

Carla’s passion for storytelling begins with her connection to the journey of the hero, and for an audience to root for a hero; there must be a relationship with the character based on weakness and character defect. With a background in the dramatic arts, and English literature, Carla will share with you her process for creating relatable, “realistic” characters through the use of conflict.

Discover why so many scripts fail at the get go, how good characterization is based more on weakness and need than personality traits, and how both internal and external conflict is used to move the story forward and bring the hero to transformation.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

How conflict helps to deepen the main character
How conflict works in a storyline
About the many faces of conflict
Why audiences must have a connection to the hero
How to make your audience “care” about the hero
The importance of dramatic tension and how it works with the hero
The essence of storytelling, no matter what the genre
The importance of universal appeal

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

Screenwriters who want a story that connects to the audience
All-level screenwriters
Screenwriters who want a better understanding of dramatic conflict and how it is used in the story
Screenwriters who want to expand their writing skills
Screenwriters who want to impress readers and (hopefully) sell their scripts

Participate Live or Watch Later

This webinar includes both access to the live webinar where you may interact with the presenter and the recorded, on-demand edition for your video library. Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for one year. You do not have to attend the live event to get a recording of the presentation. In all webinars, no question goes unanswered. Attendees have the ability to chat with the instructor during the live event and ask questions. You will receive a copy of the webinar presentation in an e-mail that goes out one week after the live event. The answers to questions not covered in the live presentation will be included in this e-mail as well.

BONUS: With purchase of this webinar, you will receive $79.99 off of a yearly subscription to the Screenwriting Tutorials website, which has specialized tutorials from experts that explore screenwriting topics covered nowhere else on the web!

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: This webinar will be broadcast using GoToWebinar. To see if your system is compatible with GoToWebinar, please review this page, which lists the system requirements for the software.
Meet the Author: Carla Iacovetti

Carla Iacovetti is a published writer, awarded poet, and screenwriter. She has authored more than a half dozen screenplays, and her poetry is featured in over a dozen anthologies. Carla, who works as a freelance writer, script editor, ghostwriter and copywriter, is also a regular feature writer for the Ventura County Reporter and is a screenwriting instructor at Santa Barbara City College Center for Lifelong Learning.

SIGN UP HERE: The Audience’s Connection to a Screenplay: Engaging through Conflict
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What’s up with universal appeal?

So, you want to write a screenplay that has universal appeal (don’t we all)?

There are a couple of major things you need to focus on for that to happen:  Your plot and the reason for action.
According to Aristotle, “The life and soul of all drama (tragedy) is the plot,”  and action is related to the want and need/goal of your main character.  In other words, let’s say your protagonist desires or needs love.  His or her need is going to drive him or her to respond or act according to the need.  Micheal Tierno, in his book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters says, “When a strong desire of a hero relates to all of the action, then the plot can depict a simple ‘portrait’ of the hero.”

So, often times, action is a emotional response of the character’s need or want.  For example:  Remember the movie Cocktail (1988), which starred Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue?  Let’s look at the storyline.  Brian Flanagan has just gotten out of the service and wants to make money.  He wants his own business, but after being turned down in several job interviews for lack of education, he takes a job working as a bartender.  His need for money pushes him to take a job that he’s really not excited about.  However, his need produces continued actions (chains of events), to include traveling to Jamaica to work as a bartender at an upscale resort, and meeting Jordan Mooney, the seeming love of his life. His boss, Doug Coughlin also wants to own his own high-end bar, so the two come up with a game-plan.  Once again, this flawed protagonist has an agenda, and his need gives rise to action, pushes the plot forward and will eventually guide the story to resolution.

(Tom Cruise- Brian Flanagan in Cocktail, 1988)

Universal appeal is important because for an audience to relate to a character or story there must be a relationship with the character and the storyline.  So, when Brian Flanagan’s business partner (the antagonist) puts him to a dare, we (the audience) feel bad for him, because it seems like all is lost.  We’ve all been there.  Desire and need are powerful things.  We somehow relate to his plight, his frustration, his turmoil, and that is universally appealing.

Is universal appeal important?  You betcha!  Life is a journey, and we are all a part of it.  For an audience or reader to relate to a character, there must be character traits, familiar moments that we’ve walked through or witnessed.  We know how this character feels because we’ve been there and done that!

According to Aristotle, “A plot must include causes of the action that can arouse the audience’s deepest pity and fear [or laughter and tears]. This means the audience must understand the hero’s thoughts and see those thoughts becoming actions, which in turn reveal a moral quality (character) of the hero.”

Just a little writing tip, in case you’re in the midst!

I am available for online, one-on-one, script coaching.   Click here: Script coaching online

Reference:  Aristotle’s Poetics by Michael Tierno

“Gone Girl” is lost in a crosswalk

Sometimes, I have to separate my personal tastes when reviewing a film. The truth is, I don’t like thrillers. I’ve never been a fan. I have a hard enough time watching the news,       especially when it involves heinous crimes against humanity or animals. So, it stands to reason if I avoid it in the news, I’m not going to go pay $10 to see it in a theatre.

However, there are times that I have to put my personal opinion aside when analyzing why a film works. Such is the case with movie Gone Girl. It earned an 88 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes; in fact, the rating is what sent me to the theatre to watch it.

Gone Girl will not get a 5-star rating from me, but I’ll admit that it’s hauntingly brilliant at times. It is a sick, twisted adaptation that defines “psychological thriller,” and yet…

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a failed writer and college professor, and Amy (Rosamund Pike), a famous children’s book writer seemingly have the “perfect” marriage, but that quickly shifts from the get go. It’s their fifth wedding anniversary, only Amy is nowhere to be found. She is “MISSING.” As the story unfolds, we learn that the marriage is a bust; Nick is having an affair with one of his college students, and Amy’s overly cool and distinctly faultless manner is nothing short of disconcerting.

It is then no surprise when the audience discovers that Amy is not dead (as we have been led to believe), but she has grimly, shrewdly plotted her own death while framing her husband as the murderer. Yes, she is fictionalizing a masterful revenge, but it’s very obvious to me that Nick will never do time.

In the meantime, Nick, who was planning to divorce her after their anniversary is in a quandary; the police suspect him of murder. As the police investigation continues and with the pressure of nation-wide media exposure, Nick is forced to “act” like he’s a caring, concerned husband who simply wants his “loving” wife back. In addition, while the police hold Nick as the main suspect for Amy’s supposed murder, he is on a scavenger hunt looking for “clues” that will lead him to his big “anniversary” surprise – a storage shed full of guy toys.

We learn about Amy’s antics through flashbacks as Amy reveals her masterful plan via her diary, which she reads in a voiceover. Amy has no plan to leave the country; she has logged a date on her calendar and confirms her intent to “kill self,” but she will make certain her husband is locked away on death row before she exits the planet.

Seems like a perfect plan, right? Wrong.

The story is about to switch gears; in fact, this story switches gears so many times you might feel like you’re on the ride of your life in the in German’s famed Nürburgring – each twist and turn moves you onto the next part of the course, as you look for a moment of reprieve from so many detours, but none are given. When Amy’s apparent suicide plot is suddenly thwarted and she is forced to immediately come up with an amendment, the audience is introduced to an entire new twist. The story (for whatever reason) seems dependent of these kinds of subplots. Truthfully, good old Aristotle, with his belief that there is one main plot might not have given Good Girl such a favorable review.

This “R” rated film is given the rating with good reason. It is loaded with explicit sex scenes, and one bloody (and I do mean bloody) act of violence after another. If you have the slightest sensitivity toward brutal violence and excessive, juggler-gushing bleeding, then Gone Girl is not the film for you. To be honest, I found the melodramatic blood scenes excessive and near unbelievable. Especially after dear, sweet Amy, the woman who has written so many wonderful children’s books, decides to change her game-plan and murder her ex-boyfriend (played by Neil Patrick Harris). This sorry, ultra rich, obsessively love-struck guy does not have a clue that his ex is nothing shy of a full-fledged sociopath. Each crazy scene somehow morphs into the next, while believability is basically tossed out the window.

One of the imitable things illuminating Hitchcock’s genius was his ability to weave suspense into a story. He was known as the “Master of suspense” for good reason. He had an amazing talent to use both suspense and tension to shock his audience. Some of this was done with camera positions (angles) movement and various shots. Music and lighting also played a big part of aiding in his desire to keep an audience on the edge of their seats. He thrived on startling his audiences with the unexpected, and this is part of my issue with Gone Girl. The audience is on information overload almost from the get go, and while the story seems bent on confusing the audience with so many twists and turns, I was never once surprised. The only thing that actually kept me un-nerved was the Amy’s vehemence and twisted evil undertakings. So, it seems that Gone Girl is reliant upon violence and bloodshed to create dramatic tension and push the plot forward, where Hitchcock used a variety of calculated techniques and strategies to fool the audience and create suspense. Time and time again, Hitchcock artfully lured an audience into a foreshadowing of suspense largely through the use of camera angles, shots, music and lighting.

Much like Hitchcock, the film addresses relevant fears such as: abandonment and rejection, failure, loss, sexism, masculinity and femininity, but it never addresses them in a real way. With so many variables in the plot and melodramatic psychological shifts, it becomes impossible to suspend belief.  We have been fed a smorgasbord of plot twists causing a nasty heartburn and a gassy aftermath, and wondering “why” we decided to dine out at all. This “villainous” twist of a film is one crazy roller coaster ride, but instead of feeling that infamous rush of adrenaline at the end of the ride, we are left with a mishmash of perspectives – perspectives sold to us in the narrative – none of which are earmarked by anything true or reliable. One thing is certain though; Amy is a “shrew” that couldn’t be tamed. “Gone” is the understatement. This girl is lost in a crosswalk.

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This blog and the “screenwriting” process

One of the earmarks of being a screenwriter is that most of us are unabashedly eager to talk about the process of screenwriting. Bottom line…it’s in our blood.  However, that process is not something that begins with the letter “A” and ends when the outline is over. It encompasses every facet of the development from conception, to production. It includes being open-minded, dedicated and ridiculously tenacious. It involves being able to take rejection and criticism while maintaining your self-esteem.

A good screenwriter should not just be able to knockout a well-crafted script; you should also be able to critically analyze other screenplays and films. I have always maintained that part of the steps of understanding the way story must function in film is to be able to review a film from a writer’s perspective.

Screenwriter on Location is a blog that encompasses “the process.” Whether blogging about the elements of craft, or discussing the latest box office hit, this blog tells “all” without hesitation.

August Osage County: Film vs. the play

Sometimes theatrical plays don’t translate well onto the screen.  I suspect, based on my reading of the play (I have not seen the production), that this might be the case with Tracy Letts Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County, vs. his movie adaptation.

In the play, the first line of the prologue is revelatory. “Life is very long…” (10) This intensely dark comedy epitomizes the term “baggage” with the unfolding of every single character within the play, and Letts uses their dysfunctional personal and interpersonal dynamics to set the tone in the storyline, which drives the plot forward.  This is certainly the case in the film as well.  The audience is told that life is long against a backdrop of miles flat Oklahoma fields–fields that seem to go on forever.

There is no doubt that Meryl Streep lives up to her reputation, and executes a brilliant performance playing Violet, the cancer-laden, vicious, pill-popping, abusive, bitter Weston family matriarch. This untamed shrew is at the helm of her entire family’s extreme dysfunction.  Despite the amazing performances by Streep, and even with the all-star cast in this adaptation, the film has some issues.  Let’s start with the fact that the trailer sets this film up as a comedy, but in no way is this storyline comedic, in fact, it is epitomizes that worst kind of individual and family dysfunction.  It’s brutal.

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Violet, who is suffering from mouth cancer, spews venomous words in rapid fire against every member of her family–to include her daughters, following her husbands suicide.  Violet is toxic and overbearing; she is nothing short of a monster. Her “truth-telling” takes sharing and disclosure to a new level. Julia Roberts plays her eldest daughter Barbara, who is the acorn that didn’t fall too far from the tree.  Roberts also delivers a stunning performance, but having two characters that are this “large,” seems to take away from the  intensity of the other.  Even though I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing August Osage County on stage, I can’t help but believe these two characters, in particular, would be better slated for the stage than the screen.

Some of the themes so present in the play are muddied when adapted over into a film.  Such as the disconnect present in a family who are aimlessly going through the motions of life, and none of them are on the same page. At times, it felt contrived.  Also, the dinner-table scene goes on and on, and is somewhat stifling.

At the core, this story is about abuse, and generational abuse shared between all the women in this family, and all of the many skeletons that are in their closets.

When a story comes together in a film… well, it’s

MAGICAL!!!

For those of you who haven’t yet seen Saving Mr. Banks, I highly recommend it.  Based on the true story of P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins children’s books, Saving Mr. Banks promises to entertain, prod emotion, and warm the heart.

The story is about the making of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, and how Disney wooed author P.L. Travers to allow him to make a film about her “magical” nanny.  As expected, Emma Thompson (P.L.Travers) and Tom Hanks (Walt Disney) give absolutely wonderful performances.  The author juxtaposes the unbending, surly personality of P.L.Travers’ character, against warm-hearted, passionate and determined Walt Disney, and it works well in the storyline.  Of course, while the film’s final scene between Disney and Traver’s is endearing and heart-warming, it is completely embellished.  The real story portrays a very unhappy Travers over the final outcome of the film, and it appears Disney and Travers end things on a very sour note.

However, the film keeps the moment magical, and it works. Our hearts are lifted, and we (the audience) are contented.

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Saving Mr. Banks manages to weave together two separate stories: the story of Ginty, an eight-year-old Australian girl and her relationship with her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell).  Ginty and her father have a unique, close-knit, loving relationship that is dramatically affected by his love for the bottle.  When his life is cut short, and he dies, Ginty’s life is forever affected. The bulk of the narrative is Disney’s pursuit of the story, and the things that transpire once Travers is flown to Los Angeles to meet the writers (screenwriting and songwriting) who hope to take the Mary Poppins’ stories and adapt them for the screen.

Travers is not easy won, which really adds to the complex scope of her character.  She is cold, indifferent, calloused, and clearly flawed.  Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith did a great job of jarring the audiences emotions with this character, and Thompson gives a rave performance.

From the time Travers arrives in Los Angeles, she is uncomfortable and unyielding, in fact, the only one who is really able to crack through her hard-hearted shell, is the friendly limo driver (Paul Giamatti) provided by Disney.  He touches the heart of Travers; something that Disney is really never able to do.  She is taken off-guard, as he gives her the grand tour of L.A. and takes her to Disneyland.  Her relationship with the driver is sincere and gives us a sense of “who” Travers “really” is, when she is normally complex, irritable, and very difficult to deal with.  Giamatti’s relationship with Travers is endearing and uplifting.

One of the biggest issues with the script, is the continual flashbacks from the present (life in the 60’s) to Ginty’s troubled childhood in Australia. These flashbacks are used to slowly unveil the complexities that surround Travers and her icy personality.   Flashbacks are tricky and can often be risky, but somehow, they work in Saving Mr. Banks.  Eventually, the audience is made aware of “why” Travers is so protective over her work; it is related to her need to protect her father.  Knowing this history gives the audience a greater understanding and appreciation for Travers.  We become engaged, and we care about this character. It’s powerful when the audience cares about the protagonist.

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The film is actually more about struggle than anything else.  While we “think” it’s about how Mary Poppins was made, it’s really much more than that.  Both Travers and Disney had troubled childhoods.  Disney choose fantasy as a way to ease his own past and conquer his demons, where Travers plummeted herself into her books about a magical nanny–a nanny that would simple whisk heartache and care away.  Travers looks at the world through hardness and disappointment, and Disney creates a new world–a happy place to shield himself from pain.  It’s a compelling comparison.

No doubt, Saving Mr. Banks is well-worth seeing.  It encapsulates the word, “entertainment,” and makes the heart glad.  ❤

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What about subplots?

Creating a good plot is essential to screenplay writing, or any other type of fiction.  The plot is what drives the story forward. While subplots are a common element used in screenwriting, they can be risky if they are not used properly.  Aristotle maintained that a perfect plot has a single issue, and that subplots are the sign of bad writing technique (Tierno).  So, if this is true then how have subplots become so predominant in screenwriting today?  It is imperative that a writer choose one external conflict and a subplot must be a part of that conflict.  For a subplot to work, it must carry the theme of the main action.

In order to establish whether a subplot will work or not, the writer needs to have an understanding of what a subplot really is.  Some writers actually call subplots the “A” and “B” story, but either way; a subplot is an extension of the main theme.  In other words—subplots are always somehow connected to the main plot.  These secondary storylines must enrich, or bring life to the main plot, and they will always help the protagonist in his or her journey toward resolve.  For example, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the central theme is developed around Hamlet’s crazed revenge of his father’s death, and his actions are a result of his need for revenge.  There are two subplots in Hamlet: The war with Norway and Ophelia’s relationship to Hamlet.  Shakespeare reveals Hamlet’s want in the first act, but complications occur in act two when Hamlet shows up in Ophelia’s chamber in complete disarray after Ophelia has just learned that he is loosing his love interest in her.  Ophelia is not overly surprised, because she is aware of his confused mental state.  The plot thickens when Ophelia shares about Hamlet’s sudden visit with Polonius:

OPHELIA

O, my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!

LORD POLONIUS

With what, in the name of God?

OPHELIA

My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,

Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;

Ungarter’d, and down-gyved to his ancle;

Pale in his shirt; his knees knocking each other;

And with a look so piteous in purport

As if he had been loosed out of hell

To speak of horrors, — he comes before me.

LORD POLONIUS

Mad for thy love?

OPHELIA

My lord, I do not know;

But truly, I do fear it.

(Shakespeare, 2:1)

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In the above scene, Shakespeare uses Ophelia’s character to create conflict and further establish the question of Hamlet’s sanity.  It is important to note the Ophelia and Hamlet have been life-long friends, so for her to “fear” his love, and have this kind of intense concern, it is somewhat disquieting.

In an article written by Amanda Mabillard, which is posted on Shakespeare Online, she says, “There are three plots in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: the main revenge plot and two subplots involving the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia, and the looming war with Norway.”  Shakespeare uses the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia to highlight a different aspect of the one external conflict—Hamlet’s settling of scores.

Everyone loves a good romance story, but the supposed romance between Hamlet and Ophelia turns sour.  By the third Act, Hamlet verbally assaults her, wounding the poor young maiden’s heart and rendering her hopelessly insane; she drowns in Act four. Laetres blames Hamlet and vows revenge.  Shakespeare uses the actions of these characters to continue create tension in the story and to enhance Hamlet’s disposition and emphasize his off-kilter state-of-mind.

For a subplot to work effectively, additional characters must remain central to the primary plot. In Sylvester Stallone’s famous screenplay Rocky, the main plot is the fight.  Where Hamlet’s motive for action was the revenge of his father’s death, Rocky Balboa’s motive for action is the big fight.  Rocky’s relationship with his manager and his wife are a way for the author to introduce different points of view, while supporting the plot and driving it forward.  The relationships that Rocky has with these two characters help to create secondary plots.  They do not take away from Rocky and his goal, but add a sense of depth to his character and bring humanness to Rocky.  For example, Rocky’s trainer Mickey sees potential in the young 25-year-old fighter, but throughout most of the screenplay, there is a lot of friction between Rocky and Mickey. Stallone wittingly uses this resistance between the two characters to produce the wanted results in the end…Rocky will fight.  Note the following excerpt from a scene between Rocky and Mickey:

MICKEY

Ya want the truth – Ya got heart, but ya fight like an ape –

The only thing special about you is ya never got ya

nose broke – – keep ya nose pretty – -what’s left of ya

brain an’ retire.

ROCKY [ignoring his comment]

Listen, I’m gonna take a steam – –

Did good last night – – Shoulda seen it.

MICKEY [ignoring Rocky’s comment]

Hey, ever think about retirin’

ROCK

…No.

MICKEY

…Think about it.

Mickey

The above scene is good psychology.  Mickey knows that if he can get Rocky mad enough he will step up to the plate and give his all, and then he will have a good chance fighting in the fight that will land him the title.  Stallone uses Mickey like the sound of a nail against a chalkboard.  This trainer wants to get under Rocky’s skin and push him on the journey toward his goal—the fight.  In the final scene, Rocky makes it to the fight, and Stallone pulls the stops out as he keeps the audience/reader suspended in thin air and he is going for the heavyweight title against the undefeated Apollo Creed.  When everyone expects Rocky to ultimately win, Stallone pulls a fast one –it’s a “split decision!”

ANNOUNCER

Ladies and gentlemen – We have a split decision!

ANOTHER ANGLE Apollo did not expect this and tenses.  His corner nervously tries to reassure him.  It does no good.  ANOTHER ANGLE Rocky did not expect this either and looks in confusion at Mickey, but Mickey is frozen with anticipation.

ANNOUNCER

Judge Walker scores it eight- seven Creed…

Judge Roseman scores it eight-seven Balboa(…)

winner and still Heavyweight Champion of the

world, Apollo Creed!

Keep in mind that the goal is the fight, and even though Rocky technically loses, his loss

makes the audience/reader love him all the more.  Mickey’s response to Rocky after the

winner is announced is not only touching, it also adds a sense of humanness to their

relationship.  In almost father-like fashion Mickey affirms to Rocky his admiration as he

says, “I don’t care what they say, you’re a winner.”

Remember…
Subplots are not additional obstacles randomly thrown into a screenplay;

they reflect the central conflict of the main plot.

For screenplay coaching and/or editing:  carlaiacovetti.com

Other references: WriterDuet.com – Screenwriting online…it’s easy, SSL secure and free!