What Makes a Good Screenplay with John Truby
Today’s guest blew my mind on his approach to storytelling and screenwriting. John Truby is one of Hollywood’s premier screenwriting instructor and story consultant.Over the last 25 years, more than 50,000 people have attended his sold-out seminars around the world, with the American Film Institute declaring that his “course allows a writer to succeed in the fiercely competitive climate of Hollywood.”
Over the last 25 years, more than 50,000 people have attended his sold-out seminars around the world, with the American Film Institute declaring that his “course allows a writer to succeed in the fiercely competitive climate of Hollywood.”
Called “the best script doctor in the movie industry,” Truby serves as a story consultant for major studios and production companies worldwide, and has been a script doctor on more than 1,800 movies, sitcoms and television dramas for the likes of Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, FOX, HBO, Alliance Atlantis, Paramount, BBC, MTV and more.
Truby’s former students’ work have earned more than $15 billion at the box office, and include the writers, directors and producers of such film blockbusters asRatatouille, In Treatment, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men I/II/III, Shrek, Mother Mary of Chris, Breaking Bad, House, Lost, Planet of the Apes, Scream, The Fantastic Four, The Negotiator, Star Wars, Sleepless in Seattle, Outbreak, African Cats (which Truby co-wrote for Disney) and more. Truby’s class is also regularly attended by top fiction writers and novelists who have topped the New York Times’ Bestseller List, won numerous prestigious literary awards, and have sold over 46 million books worldwide. Hollywood’s best-kept secret, Truby’s classes regularly attract everyone from first-time writers to A-list writers, producers, directors, filmmakers, story executives, novelists, fiction writers and more.
In addition to his sold-out seminars, John Truby remains on the cutting- edge of technology having created and developed Truby Blockbuster – the bestselling software designed to intuitively help writers learn and understand the art of developing their story ideas into fully realized professionally-structured scripts.
Truby’s principles and methods are the most modern, exciting approach to screenwriting and storytelling to be developed in a generation, which is why his classes regularly attract everyone from Oscar winners to first-time writers.
We get into the weeds of story in this EPIC conversation. Get ready to take notes. Enjoy!
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- EXCLUSIVE IFH Tribe – FREE Story Worksheet
- The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
- John Truby – Official Site
- John Truby – Facebook
- John Truby – Twitter
- John Truby – YouTube
- Bulletproof Screenplay Script Coverage Service – Get Your Screenplay Covered by Industry Pros
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Screenwriting Audio Book)
- Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker or via RSS. Additionally, you can also subscribe to the blog and get all of my material (blog posts and podcast) by clicking here.
Download ALL the 2016-2018
Television Pilot Scripts
We are in a new golden age of television. Learn from some of the best writers working in Hollywood today. Read, Learn, Write!
Just sign up below to gain instant access. No SPAM EVER!
Some of the BEST Online Screenwriting Courses & Books available:
- How to Pitch Your Screenplay in 60 Seconds
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting MasterClass
- Judd Apatow Comedy Writing MasterClass
- Michael Hauge’s & Chris Vogler’s Screenwriting & Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys
- Shonda Rhimes Television Writing MasterClass
- David Mamet Dramatic Writing MasterClass
- Jim Uhls’ (Writer of Fight Club) The Screenwriters Toolkit
- Paul Castro’s The MILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS OF SCREENWRITING
- Paul Castro’s The Million Dollar Screenplay
- Stephanie Palmer’s Good in a Room – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
- Karl Igelsias’s Writing for Emotional Impact – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE
- Save the Cat!® The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
- Linda Seger’s Making A Good Script Great – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
If you liked What Makes a Good Screenplay with John Truby, check out:
Enjoyed What Makes a Good Screenplay with John Truby? Please share it in your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc) by using social media buttons at the side or bottom of the blog. Or post to your blog and anywhere else you feel it would be a good fit. Thanks.I welcome thoughts and remarks on ANY of the content above in the comments section below…
Please note some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase or use a service. Understand that I have experience with all of these services, products, and companies, and I recommend them because they’re extremely helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I earn if you decide to buy something. Thx u!
Welcome to the bulletproof screenplay podcast episode. Number one. We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. Ernest Hemingway broadcasting from a dark windowless room in Hollywood when we really should be working on that next draft. It’s the bulletproof screenplay upon cast showing you the craft in business of screenwriting while teaching you how to make your screenplay bulletproof.
And here’s your host Alex Ferrari. Welcome to the show guys. I’m so excited for this. First episode of the bulletproof screenplay podcast. I really want to do a really want to create a podcast that is dedicated strictly to the art and craft of Storytelling screenwriting and The Business of screenwriting and this episode specifically is a crossover episode is going to be played both on my indie film hustle podcast as well as on the bulletproof screenplay podcast.
So everybody from the indie film muscle tribe can understand and get a taste for what the new podcast is all about. Now Today’s Show is sponsored by bulletproof script coverage now unlike other script coverage Services bulletproof script coverage actually focuses on the kind of project you are in the goals of the project you are so we actually break it down by three categories micro-budget in the film market and Studio film.
There’s no reason to get. Everage from a reader that used to reading Temple movies when your movie is going to be done for $100,000 and we wanted to focus on that at bulletproof script coverage. Our readers have worked with Marvel Studios CA wnbc HBO Disney scot-free Warner Brothers, The Black List and many many more.
So if you want to find out more information about our coverage service just head over to cover my screenplay. Now if you haven’t listened to episodes which is just basically what. Expect what this whole podcast is about I’ll give you a quick brief breakdown. Now. I know a lot of uh, film hustle tribe members are going to go Alex.
We already listened to screen writing stuff on the indie film also podcast. Why are you creating a podcast just to talk about that? Well, I found out that many screenwriters in the tribe, you know, love the podcast but, you know have to wait a while before they get screenwriting and story episodes as well as don’t really want to know about self distribution that really want to know about cameras or lenses or visual.
Cinematographers or any of the other stuff that we talked about. Uh, they just want to focus on the craft of Storytelling screenwriting and The Business of screenwriting. So I decided you know, what I’m going to create a brand new podcast that’s going to be dedicated strictly to that. Now I will be republishing many of the killer interviews that I had on the indie film also podcast in regards to screenwriting and The Business of screenwriting, but we’re going to be doing all-new interviews here as well and I already have.
Ton of fresh new episodes rating to be released because I’m launching a brand new podcast. I can’t just launched with one episode obviously, so we are going to have six new episodes right away. So if you’re listening to this right now, you’ve got another five episodes that you can listen to right now, and I’ll have one new episode every week.
So if you are a indie film hustle tribe member and you have subscribed to that podcast, please. Go to screenwriting podcast And subscribe to this podcast and if you could do it today, that would be amazing because the more subscribers I get in the first six weeks the faster we can rank this brand new podcast on iTunes and get this information out to people and screenwriters who really really need it.
Now today’s guest is John Truby. John Truby has been Hollywood’s Premier screen writing instructor and story consultant for over 25 years and has had more than 50,000 people attend his sold-out seminars around the world. He’s been called one of the best script doctors in the film industry and his former students work have earned more than fifteen billion dollars at the box office with movies like Ratatouille Pirates of the Caribbean X-Men 1 2 and 3 Shrek Sleepless in Seattle and many many more.
And John is also the author of the anatomy of story, which is a best-selling book on the craft of Storytelling now after going through this interview with John, I mean his perspective and his approach to storytelling is extremely unique and his take on it. It just kind of blew me out of the water.
I have never heard. Uh the kind of approach that he has been doing with his students for years and it really kind of flipped my mind in regards to storytelling because there are many different ways to tell a story there are many different approaches to telling stories. No one is better than the other they’re all just different and the more that we can learn from different.
Mentors, uh writers consultant Styles the better we are as writers and storytellers. So John is definitely a unique perspective and I cannot wait for you guys to hear this interview. And if you wait till the end of the episode John has actually created a custom free worksheet that you guys can download and will give you the link at the end.
So without any further Ado here is my conversation with John. I like to welcome to the show Jeong Ruby. Thank you so much for being on the show John great to be here Alec. I am I’ve been a big fan of your stuff for a long time and I’m glad that you could get to bring some knowledge bombs to the indie film puzzle Drive.
Yeah. I’m a I’m a big fan of indie film and uh show any time I can help out in that area promote, uh, the making of good indie films. I think that’s the really the future of. The film business. Uh, and so anytime I can help out there. I’m happy to do it. Thanks. Thanks again. So let’s get to it. I wanted to ask you first and foremost a very strong question.
Why do most people fail at screenwriting? I think the reason most people fail at screenwriting is they don’t know what. The screenwriting businesses looking for emphasize that word business and they don’t have the proper training to provide what the screenwriting business is looking for. Uh, so you have a massive mismatch between what people are writing and what Hollywood or in the film producers want to buy and this is why.
99% of screenwriters, uh failed in trying to get their work out to the world. Um, you know, we know that the film business and television or very competitive, uh, relatively few films are made. Uh, but you have. Much less chance of succeeding in that environment. If you don’t know the kind of story and the kind of story techniques that create a script that they want to buy.
That’s a very good point and it’s something that I agree with you 110% I mean and it’s it goes to a deeper issue of. That that writers tend not to you know, they’re so involved in the writing and we can all understand that because writing is incredibly are very much involved in the writing. That they failed to say and see that it’s first of all a business if you want.
Yeah, if you want to just write for yourself, that’s fantastic. But if you want to sell what you work, which were too right you’ve got to first of all understand that it is a business and understand what the business is looking for now in European, what are the building blocks of a good story?
Well, there’s there’s a ton of techniques for good story. And you know, I’ve tried over all my years of teaching story classes to go into those in great detail and try to specific as possible. I’m I’m a real stickler about technique you’ll that a lot of times writers. Read these books about screenwriting and they’re very theoretical esoteric and we all not our head and we say I think I know what you’re talkin about when it comes time to the blank page.
Uh, I did you know that blinking cursor is the worst thing in the world that exactly and if you don’t have real specific techniques to get you through that to take you step-by-step through that. You got no chance. Um, but but really the I I like to bring all of those techniques under one umbrella, which is the umbrella of Merit Drive the single most important element in popular storytelling not just in screen, right, but in worldwide storytelling in every meal is narrated dry.
And most Writers Do not first of all do not know how important narrative Drive is, especially in Hollywood screenwriting and if they do know the importance, they don’t know how to execute and when I say narrative Drive, first of all, a lot of people do not understand the term. What narrative Drive is is a story with non-stop exciting.
It’s the forward propulsion of the story that makes the reader the script reader want to turn the page. And this is by far the most important thing when it comes to selling your script. I always like to say Hollywood. Has three things above all that they’re looking for in a script there drive narrative drive and they’re okay.
I’m trying to get across the importance of this concept. And so it’s this forward propulsion of the story. So what makes it a page-turner now, there are a lot of specific techniques. That go into getting their to cry but then this brings in the other point that I was just making which is that writers typically do not get the proper training to get that in there to draw and we all know what I’m talkin about basically writers in you know, the current screen writing world use two fundamental methods.
The first is three-act structure and the hero’s journey. Now I contend that if you’re using three act and hero’s journey, that’s great. If you’re a beginner, that’s great. When you’re first starting to write because you face that overwhelming pressure that overwhelming difficulty of climbing this mountain.
I don’t know how to do it and Along Comes three act and hero’s journey and says, oh it’s real simple. Like there’s just three acts and two or three plot points and so on and it makes makes you feel you can do it and there’s real value of it. But in my opinion these these things these two structure methods will really hold you back in if you want to be a profession and there’s a number of reasons for it.
First of all, everybody uses these which means that all those scripts are the same. And it means that all those scripts are boring because we’ve seen it a thousand times or more now the first and most important thing in terms of setting yourself apart from everybody else, which is the key to being a professional writer.
It’s establishing your unique story brand. You can’t do that. If you’re writing a script that looks like everybody else’s script. You’ve got to come across with something. That’s really unique that only you can provide that producer that audience now have to you know question. The question asked though is when you apply the hero’s journey.
To multiple big almost all the big budget films and big budget Blockbusters, they all seem to line up but are you saying that there’s other things within that structure that’s working that absolutely there’s a number there’s a number of things and that’s a great question. Let me get into. Okay.
First of all, you can say the same about three act structure just say well, you know, look at all these Blockbuster films they all break into, you know 3x apparently well. To which I always reply you can divide anyting into three parts. That doesn’t mean it’s going to help you write it what people understand it is the three-act structure was invented by a story analysts to analyze a script after it was written and so it was simply an aide to say, okay, you know, this happens in the First Act this happens in the second act and so on which is simply a glorified way of saying beginning middle and end same thing is true about hero’s journey.
There yes, there are certain beats that you see from the hero’s journey that are in most Blockbuster films, but that doesn’t tell you that all the other techniques that that writer had to know and apply to make that a script that first of all which cell and second of all would have locked Buster potential is another Point too.
What people don’t tell you when they’re talkin about 3x you’re telling me about the hero’s journey is that this is not a story structure that applies to all Stories the writers Journey applies when you’re writing a myth story and very specifically when you’re writing a male myth Warrior store.
Right. Now you look at these Blockbuster films a lot of them. In fact, the vast majority of them are male warrior myths stories. And the reason for that is that Hollywood is very conscious of the fact that there are certain genres that travel the world better than others genres. The genre that travels the world better than any other form that is popular in all countries around the world regardless of language regardless of culture is a myth story.
So Hollywood because they sell to a worldwide Market they like to use that form and I always tell people and I talk heavily about genres because genres are really the key to your success in this industry. That if you want the best chance of writing a blockbuster story that will sell the Hollywood at least one of the genres that it should be based on his myth because it is the best traveled story form.
There is the problem is number one that as I mentioned just a moment ago. Those beats of the hero’s journey don’t give you anywhere close to the techniques. You need to know to write a successful male warrior myth that’s different from everything else we’ve seen before you can’t just write another Star Wars and expect to sell that but the other thing is what if you’re not writing a male warrior myth what if you’re writing a love story a detective story a thriller and so on the hero’s journey does not work for that and if you try to impose that template.
On those genres, you’re gonna have big problems you and here’s the point. Each genre is a specialized plot form. So what each does is each genre has anywhere from 8 to 15 specialized plot Beats? That you have to know and you have to hit those beets and even more importantly you have to twist those beats to do that platform in a unique way.
We haven’t seen before. So even if you were to write a hero’s journey Mythic story, if you don’t know how to twist those beats to do it in a special way. It’s not going to sell it’s not going to even come close again. You’ve got we’ve got to bring in. Originality to what is a generic way of telling stories?
So my basic point is that these techniques these basic structural methods are good when you’re first starting out, but you’ve got to go way past that if you want to work at the professional level meaning you are one of maybe one half of one percent. Who is working in that Arena? And that’s why I put so much emphasis on the techniques of mirror Drive regardless of the genre regardless of the medium.
These are the elements that really make a difference in your store. Now when we talked about coming on your show, I decided to put together a story Improvement worksheet. That would have a number of these techniques in there in a place for writers to actually write what how they execute that technique on worksheet.
And one of the first ones that is in there is the desire line of the year what the hero wants in the store and it’s interesting Alex. I do my story class all over the world. And when I give the class outside of the United States, I always asked the students. What do you think is the main reason that Hollywood films are the most popular movies in the world by far and they give me two answers invariably no matter what country.
I’m in it’s all the same same two answers. The first is you have all the movie stars, okay. And uh that gives me the opportunity to tell them that Hollywood has not been a movie star based business for 20 years. The only guys that don’t know that it’s no longer a movie star based business is the movie stars, right?
It’s a story based business and more specifically it is a genre based business the other answer they always give me is. You spent so much money on special effects. And of course, they point to all the big Blockbuster films with all that money that was spent on special effects that gives me the opportunity to point out to them all the movies that bombed at the box office that spent a ton of money on special effect because that has nothing to do with it.
And then I get to tell them the real reason the number one reason why Hollywood movies make more money than any other. Film in the world is in the script and it is the desire line of the hero in Hollywood movies that you have single hero who has a very specific desire that he goes after with Incredible intensity because what that desire line does is give you the spine of the store.
And then it’s all about will that character succeed in getting the goal? And it doesn’t matter what country I live in I want to see that characteristic see and it’s that desire align that very intense specific desirable that gets me on board The Thrill Ride and that’s what Hollywood movies really are in terms of we were talkin about popular movies.
Right. Now there’s not necessarily a case with indie films. I’m talkin about Hollywood man scream films. They are A Thrill Ride Your equivalent of a Thrill Ride what used to be known as the e-ticket ride and Disneyland, right? Right and and the way they get it they a lot of techniques again, but the first way they do it is with a single hero with the driving desire.
Now, you might say what women. What about the Avenger? What about these? You know these teens that just show you can so on. Guess what all they’ve done is that taking a number of Euros turn them into a team and that team becomes the single desire that the single hero and the team goes after a single goal with Incredible intensity and in the in the worksheet that I put together.
I have in there. There’s a test that you do in your own school to see if you have a single desire line that is specific enough to carry the weight of the entire story and that tested there must be a moment at the near the end of the story when the audience knows yes or no the hero either got the goal.
Where they lost the goal now obviously nine out of ten times in Hollywood movies. They’re going to get the goal but structurally it is not necessary that they get to go. But what is important to remember is this spine this goal of the hero is the thing that you hang every other story element on top of which is why when you’re writing that script that is the first thing you’ve got to figure out.
Because everything else will come off of that. Now what are so what makes a character interesting to an audience? Is it just this this drive or is what are some elements that make characters interesting great question. One of the reasons is the particular desire that they have because when a when a character has a very specific goal, especially if it’s a difficult goal to achieve.
That’s one of the ways the audience identifies with that character because if that character wants the goal of that much and I know a precisely what go they want then I want them to win that go to so I get invested in it as well. When I when I get my story class I talk about the desire line is is the tracks of the train and once we set up that goal at the end of the journey.
It’s like the audience gets on the train with the hero and we all go after it together. So that’s the first thing there’s a second element that is extremely important in creating a character that the audience cares about and that is that we have to give them a weakness at least one major flaw. That is holding them back from success not just success in getting that goal.
It’s holding them back from success in life. This is a flaw that is so serious that it is ruining their life and it’s actually established even before you establish the desire line of the hero. Now a lot of people here that it’s counterintuitive. They say, well, you know, I don’t. Why would I want to see a guy with a problem a weakness like that?
Well, it is a real interesting test where you see this go on. You see the power of this concept for many years James Bond franchise was the most popular franchise in the history of massively successful when we got up into the 20s. Um number of Bond films it started to get a little tired, right and it essentially became each film became basically a stunt film.
Only question in that film was is this set of stunts going to be better than the ones that were in the last month? Okay. Absolutely zero story quality. And then they decided to make Casino Royale which was the origin film of James Bond and they did one thing above all else that made all the difference in the world.
They gave James Bond who until that point had been a superhero and in fact is the most most popular superhero in history. They gave him a both a psychological and a moral flaw what they did was they took his strength besides being this, you know, incredible, you know intelligence guy who who does all these action stunts.
He’s physically very good, but they took his great strength. He’s a ladies man. The ultimate ladies match they turn that into a flaw and they made it a deadly flaw because James Bond fooling around with women, especially married women in that film. He gets a married woman killed and all of a sudden we see that this lady’s men quality is actually built on a deep that’s been there for a long time.
Since he was young and it’s represents a coldness an inability to love and so what are they doing that picture? They had James Bond fall in love? Oh my God. Can you imagine James Bond in love? And it course? The lover turns out to be one of his opponents. So you get this massive betrayal. So the point is by setting up this great both psychological and moral in this character instead of making the character less popular, which is what they had been afraid of because the conventional wisdom in Hollywood for decades was when you have an action hero, they’ve got to be perfect.
They’ve got to be a parable muscle-bound, right? Exactly and instead they reversed and they said no we’re gonna give him flaws and guess what that made James Bond far more popular and you know, why is because Casino Royale is a great story. It was it was excellent and that’s the difference and so the two main things that you’re looking for and again, there are many other techniques but the two most important.
We’re caring for a character. And by the way, this is this again goes against conventional wisdom most writers when they’re creating their characters. They they basically try to come up with a list of traits characteristics. Uh, you know, uh, um, what is their job how much money do they make how dress uh, what’s your favorite color?
You know, it goes on and on. Well, these are all superficial and make virtually no difference in terms of the connection between the audience and the character by far the two most important things to establish in that character and you do it right at the beginning of the story is what is their great flaw and what do they want?
And if you do that, you’ve got 90% of the viewers right there. There’s a movie that I always use as a reference as argue. One of the one of the best written movies of all time Shawshank Redemption, which is is fascinated me because I was in high school when it came out and uh at that time. I thought you know, Jean Claude Van Damme was a greatest actor of all time.
So, um back in the day when you’re a kid, but that movie cut through all of that and even at that moment myself my group of friends everyone just. Love that movie and there was something so Primal in the storytelling that it’s now considered one of the greatest films ever made, but it took a while for people to catch up to it.
What what do you think is the key to that specific film with Andy Dufresne and his journey. I love to hear your take on why you think that story resonates so powerfully with audiences around the world. Well, I agree with you. It’s a great choice. It’s a terrific film terrific story and not surprisingly there are many story elements that are going into that success one of the reasons that that.
It was overlooked in terms of how great it was time is because they do it. So effortlessly, it’s like Michael Jordan playing basketball. Well, you figure well guys just got great physical skills. No, you don’t have any idea the kind of technique that is sitting underneath those skills. The great writers will do that.
Um, so, you know again, there’s there’s tons of reasons. You have a terrific main character. Uh, you have the use of which is which is a you know, a lot of people, uh, don’t even consider this as part of the success. In fact, it goes against conventional wisdom, which is that the that it has a storyteller.
Narration according to is horrible. Yeah, you’re not supposed to do that. It’s a complete nonsense. Right some of the greatest Hollywood films ever have narration in it. Of course. Oh, yeah when voiceover narration is used to hide mistakes in the story. And because when they made the film they screwed it up.
So now they have to patch it with this voiceover. Yeah, then then you’ve got a big problem with voice over narration but story or anything like that they kind of stick in there sure exactly but if if it’s part of the story structure from the beginning if it’s there for a reason. Then it can really kick up certain story can kick it up to another level which it did in this case because notice that we don’t just really care about in we care about the voiceover.
I can’t remember a character’s name red exactly. Of course Morgan Freeman and and and that. Because we’re coming at it from his point of view third person point of view. It also hooks us with much less screen time into liking red and and and another big part of it is the friendship between them white guy black guy.
There’s it’s not if it’s not then they’ll hit you over the head over it, but you can bet. That that is a big part of the success of that story in terms of making us feel good that these two guys succeed now, who’s the who’s the main character that movie is it red? Or is it as Andy? Well, this is really interesting because because one of these I talk about my Advanced story class is that when you have a story tell the story teller is the true main character of the story, right?
And which indicates. That red is actually the main character and if you track the structure beats of that story, you see that key hits all of those structures repeats that make him the main character but it is a it’s a very similar structure to The Great Gatsby. Nick is talking about Gatsby. Now when people talk about think about The Great Gatsby the thankful Gatsby’s obviously the main character.
But extracts is not Nick’s the main character one of the interesting things that can’t remember the the directors that would do who did the most recent gasp, uh, baz, luhrmann exactly. Um, one of the things he did was increase considerably the Storyteller frame that Nick has on screen much more than in the novel and that’s because the journey.
The psychological moral Journey that’s going on there. It’s not Gatsby Gatsby basically Falls and we feel sorry that he does because he was you know, he’s basically cheated but the guy who makes the journey in the story is Nick Ambassador understood that but but so so that’s another important element of Shawshank Redemption.
I would contend that. The most important pitch it has a great plot God so it’s so beautifully written Frank Darabont was so good enough just terrific and and and Alex this is something that is so important because I tell I tell everybody in my class is the single biggest problem that writers have in screenwriting and every other story medium today is they don’t know how to apply.
It’s not character. It’s not dialogue. It’s plot is that is that different than structure? It is different than structure. It’s closely connected to structure, but it’s different from structure and let me let me explain plot has more techniques that go into a good one than all of the other stories skills combined.
S not even close and the problem with it is not only is plot extremely complicated to do as a writer. It’s very difficult to teach and here’s the reason most people think about plot as the character overcoming a series of obstacles, of course the story. And what that means is they think of it in a tactical way in the sense of they think of it as these individual moments when the Cure overcomes an obstacle and basically especially if you’re using hero’s journey, what you do is you simply string a series of obstacles that he overcomes along the way well big mistake what she just done is committed what I consider to be the cardinal sin.
Of Storytelling, which is a cardinal sin applauding which is you’re hitting the same beat. It’s repeating the same because even though that might be a different opponent that you are overcoming at each obstacle. It’s basically what’s happening. There is the same basic action. And so you string too many of those together and you get an episodic plot a boring plot.
How do we contrast that we contrast that to a grand plot where all of the obstacles and opposition are connected under the surface and designed in such a way that this opposition bills over the course of the story. And what a really great plan is instead of coming at it from a tactical point of view.
You have to come at it from the strategy point of view because a plot is a grand strategy that the opponent and the author used to put the hero in the greatest possible trouble. So instead of looking at each of these moments as a single event. You have to look at your plot as this Grand sequence that were all of these elements are connected together most of them under the surface.
Now that’s very hard to do. It’s also very hard to teach which is I went people for example, they do the Euros Journey or the three-act structure and so on they don’t get this training. So, of course, they’re not going to be able to do that. And what do they do? They execute these simple structures?
They think you know, I’m doing what the books tell me to do. And they and they don’t come up with a great plot and the guess what they think well must be my fault. I have to tell well, it’s not the fact that you don’t have the talent. It’s the fact that the tool that you’re using is not Advanced enough to give you an advanced level.
And what plot really is is it’s made up of a number of components. I mentioned a little while ago the most important which is the desire line in order to hang this sequence of opposition’s that puts the euro in the greatest possible trouble. You have to hang it on a spot. So that’s the goal that the Euro has you can take him from the beginning.
So it’s kind of like what Hitchcock is in most of his big movies is he has that MacGuffin and the character trying to get that MacGuffin and it’s just a strong need and everything is dangled and Hong on that very strong narrative. Exactly exactly. MacGuffin is simply a term for a desire line where it’s not that important whether the character gets the gold or not, but we have to have a spine to hang everything else on if you don’t have a goal to go for it.
There’s no store. Right, right, and there’s no opposition because this is concept of the plot as I mentioned right at the beginning. You have to start with the desire line because everything comes up of that but another thing that I have in the in the uh, the story Improvement worksheet that I put together for your people is has to do with the opposition until you know, the desire line you can’t come up with you.
And you don’t know exactly who they are because and this has to do with a structural definition of opponent a lot of writers get this wrong, right? They think the opponent is the villain He’s the bad guy. Okay. Well, sometimes he is a villain but sometimes he’s not that has nothing to do with structurally.
What makes an opponent opponent is a character who wants to prevent the hero from getting his goal period. So by that definition opponent could be a better human being than a hero could be and in this is one of the things we see in advance storytelling oftentimes. The opponent is a better human being but what makes him report is that he’s on the other side of the goal.
And in fact, he is competing for the with the hero for the same goal because this. What’s the hero an opponent into a necessary opposition in other words they have to fight and now you hear that and you think well, that’s kind of obvious. Right? But believe me when I tell you that he loads of example.
Your own opponent do not want the same goal and in the writer, then doesn’t understand. Why can I not create conflict and build conflict? It’s because if you have a year an opponent who were going after a different goal, it is entirely possible for them to go after those goals without coming into direct conflict.
The only way you can make sure that they come into direct conflict and that that conflict bills over the course of the story is if they want the same. And then they’re going to fight about it and that fight is going to get nastier and nastier and nastier until you come up. You have a final battle at the end which decides the issue.
So this then is you get this opposition which then is the second major element to Great narrative drive. So with and I’ll go back to Shawshank the main villain of that of that movie among the other minor villains is the ward. Who’s stopping? Yep, uh Andy from just living let alone trying to escape.
He was dead. No chance to escape. He’s just like being a human being. Um, so what is the goal one of the same goals because Andy obviously wants to has a different goals than than he does but yet they conflict so much. So, what does that how is thinking explain that? Again, great question a lot of people in the when they hear that they hear an opponent have to compete for the same goal.
They like to go to a detective story and say wait a minute. They don’t compete for the same goal. The the bad guy is committed emerge trying to get away with it and the detectives trying to figure out who did it Mari audience are like homes right now. And then when the writer tries to read write their own detective story, Uh again, they don’t understand why can’t I make this thing work I can I make this opposition in this work.
It’s because that’s not what a detective story is. They’re really fighting about detective and the uh, and the killer are fighting about whose story will be believed. And what they do is each takes the same set of physical Clues and creates a story Tech. The story is about competing artistic storage.
It’s not about you know, the Killer and then that the Dead Guy and all that, you know looking for and asking questions and finding out who did it’s about. Which story will be believed the villains were the heroes and so what you in this this leads to one of the key rules about good detective writing is every physical clue that you put in the story has to have at least two possible interpretations.
This is one reason why the Texas stories have the most complex plot of money genre there is. And by the way, just to just to go back to an earlier Point why if you try to do a detective story using the arrows Journey, good luck you will you don’t know and actually I’ve never actually even thought about it that way but you’re right because I’ve I’ve been in the camp of hero’s journey hero’s journey three act structure and I know there’s four or five act structure and and other Raiders of the Lost Ark is what five struck 5X.
Some have said that yeah, I mean, I I think I think even trying to do that you’ve already lost the battle because it’s totally arbitrary. Um, for example, I was on a I was on a panel once with three other fairly well known story story gurus and I use that term loosely because they despised the word but one of the teachers up there set.
This this person is very strong Advocate advocate of three-act structure set. Um, she acknowledged the fact that Shakespeare wrote in five acts and she said what Shakespeare really meant to do was to write in three Acts. Okay, so now she’s reinterpret Shakespeare. Yeah, exactly. Okay, you see the absurdity?
Yes. I got you. I got you. Yes. It’s a mouse mouse throwing stones out of line got it. Exactly. But it’s also the absurdity of trying to divide into numbers whether it’s three parts for parts. Five Parts Eight Parts. Um, you can divide any unit. Into any number of pieces. The question is does the dividing of that give you techniques to actually write it in such a way that it feels like it’s all of One Piece that bill steadily to a climax at the end.
And my point is that certainly something is simplistic as a three-part division is not going to get you anywhere close to the ability to write a Shawshank Redemption. It’s just it’s just there’s no technique there. It’s like with Gertrude Stein said about about Oakland. There’s no there there.
There’s nothing and you can use right and as I said at the beginning, I’m all about the Practical. I’m all about specific techniques that if I do this in the story, I will get this emotional effect in the audience. So you so you can you’re absolutely right. You can’t, you know, you could you can cut anything into as many parts as you want.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about the story. It’s all about how it’s moving that that drive through it. Exactly exactly. It’s all about how are you? How are the all the elements contributing to the overall narrative Drive of that story because the audience isn’t looking at it and say well that was a great First Act.
Right. Yeah, he’s good. This guy’s good only only in LA right now, but but no they’re sitting there. They’re on this real ride. They want to propulsion. They want the speed right? And so they don’t know the techniques that are going there. They don’t know the techniques that are putting them there, but we as writers have got to know those techniques so that we created so I thinking about a screenwriter.
Nolan who is obviously a master at what he does and historical aircraft you take a script like Memento or Inception which has its just layer on top of it makes my head hurt right thinking about the layers that are on that and how he’s able to bring or Pulp Fiction. I mean, that’s another one. That was just yep.
You could break that into three act structure. You could but what do for you what would it do for you? I I prefer to break into the elements that really made a difference which are so for example, I love the fact that you did your time at Krishna Krishna and his brother are the number one in terms of the ability to create plot in popular movie today.
Number one. They are plot Masters. And their biggest problem that no one else in the world has is they’re so good at plot. That they create too much plot. Sometimes sometimes they sometimes do some time to do but I always tell writers is we should all have that problem, right? I don’t want to get too big if I go to the gym, right?
I want to get to shredded. You know I say if when you can write plot like Krishna and then come to me and we’ll give you a few things to fix it. I don’t think you’re gonna be coming to me. I really don’t but but no, I mean you look at the way that he structures these stories in a way he uses plot.
Um there you can see if you break it down. You can see the grand strategy that the author and the main opponent are using let me give you a perfect example of this in the Dark Knight greatest superhero movie ever made, I would agree with you on that and there is no there is no competition for that.
It is the best if you look at the plot of that story it is it is. It’s very deep. It’s very complicated and it’s probably a little too complicated, but I’m fine with that. But but if you if you break it down structural you will find that this plot is built on a sequence of tests. Moral test that the Joker forces Batman to solve.
And these tests become more and more difficult. Okay. Yeah intense leading to the final test with where we have the two ships or he used the classic from Game Theory the classic prisoner’s dilemma. In order to create this scene and what and why is the Joker forcing Batman through these tests besides the fact that the greatest opponent will test the hero to the deepest possible level.
It’s because he’s trying to prove his view of humanity, which is that man is simply another animal with a thin veneer of civilization. And I’m gonna scratch that thin veneer and show you he’s just a dog eat dog animal like everybody else like every other creature and he happens to be wrong. But what he does is and what with the Nolan’s do there is by giving Batman’s the series of more complex moral test each time.
They’ve they’re tightening device. They’re making okay. All right, you solve that one. Now. Let’s turn it the screws a little more. Now. How you going to do this one? And this is the kind of this and this also points up the essential difference between plot and structure because structure is simply plot that forces the hero to deal with his weeks.
That very first step that I mentioned that you established for the character because the weakness both psychological and moral this weakness is the is the driving force is the the first Palms.
In fact, that is what the story is really designed to solve and what how do we solve it? We’ve forced the hero to go on a plot Journey. Go after a goal which pressure on him at an increasing rate until he is forced to confront that weakness and he either solves that weakness or he fails and that happens at the end of the story and it happens right after he accomplishes or fails to accomplish his boat.
Can you even give another example of a movie that does what you just said because I’m think I’m rattling my head. Where have I seen a movie and I know they exist but I can’t think of one that exactly that happens that the villain is testing the uh, testing the hero again again, again till the final Crescendo, uh of the finale.
I’m assuming we’re in Sherlock Holmes at a certain point do that. I mean, you know start with that. I mean, it’s it’s wide, why was Moriarty create? It comes down to what I consider to be one of the most important of all story principles, which is the hero is only as good as the person he fights.
Yeah, you want a Great Hero you have to have a great opponent and you have to have an opponent who is equal to that hero, even at the beginning more powerful than the heroes that’s and now we’ll go off on a tangent here, but I think that’s one of the reasons why. DC is having such a difficult time with telling stories other than Batman because Batman is the OWN Batman is the only Marvel character in the DC Universe the has flaws, but everyone else is a God.
So that’s why Superman a difficult don’t look character to write for you absolutely nailed the difficulty of any superhero franchise and is why Batman? Dark Knight is the best superhero movie ever for a lot of reasons. But the main reason he’s got a psychological and moral flaw and he’s human. If you have a superhero, who is a God that’s actually one like Superman where he’s just a straight-up superfine guy.
What do you got? What are you gonna do with that? I throw Kryptonite down again and again and that’s and that is a physical that simply a physical object that can attack attack him. Yeah Lex Luthor never was. Never was a challenge. I don’t think it doesn’t have the like the Joker Batman Dynamic doesn’t have the same thing as a Superman Lex Luthor Lex Luthor arguably is his his Joker but it was just like, uh got the movies but look at the but look at the difference right there Lex Luthor is of course Moriarty.
Right and what we’re trying to do is create a villain who is at a high intellectual level who is capable of challenging that Superhero to the greatest possible degree. Right? And that’s fine except that if the superhero is a god without a moral or really even a psychological flaw and then only way that that villain can can test him is on the intellectual level.
Is can I create crime that you can’t deal with that? You can’t solve in some way empty. That’s empty. Yeah, it’s totally empty. It’s like okay, I’m gonna succeed or not. Well, obviously he’s gonna succeed so, you know, it’s just spinning wheel. And that’s that’s why that’s why in until they do a superhero movie of Another superhero who has the kind of moral and psychological complexity of a Batman.
Nobody else is gonna come close to that film. Well, the only when I can’t even think of that I remember is the Superman to back in the day with Richard Donner’s one. That was a great example of like, okay, you’ve got Superman. He’s the Boy Scout. What do you do you give him three super people? To fight and they gets tested along the way and then you take away superpowers.
Now, he’s human so like that Dynamic was probably one of the best Superman stories told ons and Cinema dude. Yeah, and and and but but but let’s take this this story problem out to the larger issue of if you’re doing any franchise because Marvel has the same problem. Oh, yeah. Marvel’s had a has been more successful than than uh, DC Comics and our brothers.
However, they’ve got the same problem when you have superheroes who are Gods who cannot be killed then what do you do? Well, you can maintain you do is you try to come up with a new villain. That’s really really. Tough and it’s really smart and he can really test them. Okay, but that that again that gets repetitive real fast.
Okay. And so what are the best Marvel films they are films where they take the team of these super girls and they put them in Conflict. That’s why a guy like Josh Whedon when he when he uh, I can’t remember which we Avengers event. Um why that was so smart was he was coming from TV? TV has the best story telling the world today by far it just it has it has dwarfed film in terms of quality and it has for the last 15 years.
All right, one of the techniques one of the one of the techniques that he brought over from television. It was when you have a series and that’s what these franchises. Are. You have a series uh-uh. You you you have service the main character. So, for example, you have you have five leads, right the juice of the show doesn’t come from each patient Anonymous patient that comes in every week that we help that we heal.
No, it has to come from the conflict Within These these leads these these are all part of a family but we have to make them fight with each other because that’s where the juice is. That’s exactly what Josh did when he wrote The Avengers as he put the he tried to create conflict among these characters that we love were part of the family.
That’s why it was a better story. Yeah. He still had the outside off position still had to pay those dues, but the juice of it. Was in here can they can they get together long enough to defeat the bad guy, which is a much more powerful argue than what they are. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. That’s why something like Winter Soldier Captain America when our soldiers probably one of the best Marvel movies I thought.
Because of the way they structure that story and what those guys are doing. We’re going off on a tangent but uh what those guys did with Civil War and all that kind of stuff. Um, now what you said, you just just just do 2 dot that I but it is precisely the same technique. It’s we take our heroes we put them into the main conflict.
That’s what that’s what the audience loves to see because their characters that we’ve invested in. I don’t care about this new opponent. He’s just there to create the overall. Um, uh Jeopardy so then why did Civil War work so well and become such a success and Batman versus Superman was a colossal piece of you know, what Batman vs Superman as soon as I heard that I said, that’s clickbait basically quickly.
It cannot work. I don’t care what they do cannot work. Okay, because first of all you have to you have to convince me that these two fighters for justice are going to come to hate each other so much that they are going to come into conflict and it’s a conflict that I even believe. To the death to the death.
All right, so the death right? I don’t believe that from point. Okay, so they’re already have got me with a massive problem of disbelief. I’ll tell you what my wife wants. You heard that she’s like that’s ridiculous. Super kill them in five in the second he over and just done it’s over. That’s the other reason.
That’s the other reason you got a human against a God, right? No matter how much Tech you might have. That’s right Phil a God. That’s right. No matter how smart Batman maybe it’s not gonna happen. This is this is the same problem why the the um, the Matrix one was so much better than two and three because as soon as he becomes a superhero a God in Matrix to the concept that this guy has any Jeopardy at all is gone.
You know, I wish I would find you know, you look at these superhero movies when they when either the super villain and the superhero have a fistfight or two superheroes have a fist fight, you know, and they one guy gets punched and he knocks down three buildings, you know, and yeah, it’s like it’s just a total waste of time because nobody for a second thinks that anybody’s going to be hurt.
There’s no Jeopardy. No, there’s no there’s no Jeopardy. That’s why I’m gonna be like Logan you could feel that there was Jeopardy and finally, you know with Wolverine that he was sick that he could all this kind of stuff and there was Jeopardy and Batman vs. The Joker, you know at any moment Batman can get hurt.
Yep, and he does and and the people he loves can get her. Right and you had that great you have that great scene, uh in the jail Batman locks the door and he had and this is just another example of the Joker testing him morally because she’s saying to Batman Okay Batman, how far are you gonna go to get to give you the information that you need in order to save your girlfriend and and heart and.
So he has to basically break the law practically killed the guy and then even then the
smart located and it’s just it’s just it’s just really from from you know minute one. And when questioned without question now, you were saying something earlier though about television being so much better than um than film today. Why do you think that is because I agree with you 100% but what is the reasoning you think it’s on the story structure?
Uh, and what would you seen in the last 15-20 years is TV moving from a generic episodic art form that is not even an art form to the storytelling medium. That’s probably the greatest storytelling medium that we hit and it comes from the fact that until about 20 years ago the story structure of an episode of television.
Was a was based on about 44 minutes where the same story structure beats were repeated week in week out. So you begin the story by establishing the problem for example the crime and then the goal is to solve a crime and then they saw the crime in the last scene right right story. Um and the next week, we repeat those same beats.
We just come up with a different. So what you get is a generic storytelling that is not an Artful now basically with The Sopranos, I mean there were bochco really really started this uh, about 10 years before that. But but we’re really changed was with The Sopranos because with The Sopranos we have.
The serial story structure instead of what used to be known as the Standalone story structure and an episode is the Standalone story and we repeat that h0. What you have is you have first of all you tend to have multiple main characters each one has desires but instead of the desire getting solved in each episode These are desires that extend over entire season.
This then allows you to have opposition within the team of main characters. And this opposition doesn’t get solved at the end of one episode. It extends over an entire season. So what that means is that the standard of quality that we judge the art form is not the episode. It’s the season. And all of the great shows are serial story structure and this serial story structure goes back to the novels of the mid-1800s.
Especially Charles Dickens. All right, we basically gone back to the future. But what does that mean? It means we have on television. We have a canvas that is ten times larger than we get in a feature film that that’s why film has no chance to compete with on that low. And so and and and what that means is that we have far more complexity of character and more complex if you apply.
So is that why there’s so much more spectacle? To try to hide that there’s lack of story in Hollywood movies now it is absolutely absolutely it’s and it’s based on a false assumption when we talked about earlier that oh what what gets him into the seats is all the special effects all the spectacle.
Yeah. That’s when I’m when I’m seeing a superhero movie. I better have some. No question about but that’s not what gets him into the seat. Um, the other reason that TV has far surpassed film is the economic model because the Hollywood studios are designed to appeal to a worldwide audience for each film.
They have to make a very narrow form of story that appeals essentially to and. Anywhere from 15 to 25 to 30 years of age worldwide. Okay. What does that mean? That means myth Warrior superhero stories right that we’re that’s where we can make our money. That’s why we tell writers and unless you’re willing to write a superhero story.
Hollywood doesn’t want to talk to you they all they want is Blockbusters, but what’s the difference television fractured from the three channels right hundreds of channels and Netflix and Amazon all making narrowcasting. I don’t have to appeal when I make Breaking Bad or Mad Men. I don’t have to appeal to 15 year old boy.
I am appealing to a very intelligent segment of the population and it’s also a much more select audience than even at the major networks used to be. Uh, you had to have a hit in the on a network show you had 20 million viewers, right Mad Men at the peak of its popularity. This is in my opinion the greatest TV show in history and certainly one of the top five.
It had three million viewers. Wow, when you when you don’t have to appeal to that mediocre audience that’s in the middle. You can do things that that stretch that are not only great examples in and of themselves will work of art, but they stretch the medium of Television to being a medium. That is at its highest.
Art form and what you’ve seen really in the last 20 years is the same thing that happened to novels in about 17 the mid 1700s when it became an art form. It happened in movies in the early 1900s when it became an art form. This happened at the beginning of the century with television. And what we’ve seen is whether they call it the rightfully call it the Golden Age of television and it’s because the writing is serial story structure and guess what the other key factor writers control television.
Absolutely despise the auteur theory that says the director is the author of the film I think is one of the biggest pieces of nonsense ever and one of the ways you prove it is look at the medium that has now come under the control of writers writers run it when you put riders in control of a story medium.
Guess what you get great stories when you put producers and directors in charge of a medium like you get in film. Guess what? You get spectacle you get generic storytelling and it does not. It doesn’t reach the level of art. I was having dinner not too long ago was one of the top film critics in the country.
I don’t want to mention his name top real quick won a Pulitzer. I said to him does it bother you that you are reviewing films every day? That are primarily superhero films right while television is going on and for 15 years has been going on that has one great show after another. Does that bother you he says every day of my life.
I could only imagine so do you do you have any tips? Um for writers to overcome the dreaded writer’s block? Absolutely dominant writer’s block again is something that’s highly misunderstood writers. Typically think that writer’s block comes from a psychological problem. That somebody has with their right in fact writer’s block is almost always caused by a structural problem that they have in their writing when you solve the structural problem.
You get rid of the block. What happens is that a lot of writers still go in novel world is called being app answer. It’s it plotting by the seat of your pants just. Coming up with the plot as you go. And this is by the way the most common mistake that amateur writers make and them back tremendously from having a chance to write at the professional level.
They come up with an idea. It’s a great idea. They get so excited. They immediately start writing script papers. They write 15 20 pages right themselves into a structural hole and they can’t get out and they have no idea how they got there. So they run to the block and eventually they give up and then they tried again.
They repeat the same mistake with the next story idea until they screw up enough story ideas that they give up writing in Target. Right? And and and by the way that ties in with this one of I think most dangerous pieces of fiction that writers have been given which is. Just get it on the page.
Right? Let’s get it down. You can fix it later. I used to give that recommendation myself because writer’s block, you know when blows go with it. Let it flow except that. I found after years of experience that it doesn’t flow forever blowing about page 15, and you can’t get it to flow again. And so this is why we say no do your due diligence up front do your structural work up front your you’re planning your outlining your figuring out the structural elements of your unique story not the three-act type stuff, but I’m talkin about the structural elements of your unique character and your unique plot get that Grand Design figured out up front when you have that grand.
In front of you, which you then we’ll be able to adjust as you go. You’re not you’re not restricted to it. You’re not frozen too. But we have that Grand Design. I guarantee you will not hit writer’s block. Now. What is you said about amateur writing? What is the biggest difference between a professional and an amateur plot?
It’s the ability to write an intriguing surprising plot. That not only hits the the main genre beats of the particular genre that author is working in but twist the beats in a unique way and and and here we have to step back most writers don’t even know that these of the genre they’re working and one of the things I have in the worksheet.
With these genres one of them being that the most important marketing strategy. I talked about you got to write for what Hollywood wants to buy and the single most important marketing strategy in Hollywood film and television and also in novels by the way is every film that is made is a mix of at least two typically three sometimes even for Jean.
It’s the marketing strategy of getting two for the price of one. There is no single genre film out today. All right, so you got to start with that and and and let’s say you know that as a writer and you’re mixing genres. Well, then you running another problem if you don’t know how to meet.
You end up with a big story. That’s because each one of those genres as it don’t specialize to Euro Zone specialized opponent. These are predetermined it. Has anyone has anywhere from 8 to 15 story beats specialized plot beads that make that a that particular genre. For example, one of the plot beats that you get into love story is the first kiss right now.
If you don’t have a first kiss in Your Love Story guess what you’re gonna fail. Right, right. But so so what Writers Do Is they try to mix these genres and they end up with story chaos. And so again, this is something that I’ve got. I’ve got in the in the story worksheet which is which is you have got to them once you know what the genres are you’re using you’ve got to.
Make one of those genres the primary Jean because that that gives you the foundation structure including the main desire line that all the other genres and plot beats are going to be built on top of so I I have a good example, I think of one that worked well with combining genres, which is Logan which is a superhero mix of the western.
Yeah, basically mix with a drama with mixed with a drama. Yeah, that’s right. And that’s one of the reasons why it kicks it up to a higher level in the normal superhero story is because it because when you are doing your your genres and I said, you got to twist the genre the most important strategy for twisting the genre beats is to add drama elements.
Family drama and that’s because what drama does is it? These are real characters with real pain real problem and they’re not superheroes that you know their way up here their gods and so on they don’t have any weaknesses and so on you combine genre with drama, you’re going to have probably the most powerful drama genre combination.
There is and Logan is a perfect example of that. Now where can you find an example where over awry? Where they mixed genres you like what happened? Could you say go back to a superhero movie Suicide Squad is what was that a mixture of genres? That was a mixture of a bunch of stuff he is but my sense is that the reason for that failure was much more than just they didn’t know how to mix the genres right?
My sense was that wasn’t the the main problem, uh with that and it tied in with some of the things we talked about in terms of and now. Interesting to look at what they were trying to do. They were trying to use the technique I talked about before which is what do you do when you have superhero to make them human into makes it so we can identify with them more.
Well, we make them really dark negative superheroes. And and that was a great idea problem. Is that what they were using is there is a sub-genre called the suicide. Mission storage sure, um Rogue one is a suicide mission story Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is a and and one is a suicide mission story.
Um, and this is by the way the primary genre strategy that they use when they’re doing superhero team movies, they and suicide mission. I don’t want to go into too much detail. I talk about genre classes, but. She was tied Michigan stories a sub form of action. And you said of a team of people they have a single goal, but the goal is so impossible to get that everybody’s going to be killed.
By the end of the story and they all know it going it right. It’s a suicide mission Seven Samurai. That’s the beginning of Magnificent Seven sure to this day is the greatest of all in my opinion the greatest movie ever made, but that’s a yes. Um, but but they’re, you know a good number of those people get killed.
Here’s the cheek that the modern superhero form of this does. Well, we can’t kill off our superheroes because we’ve got to have them for the next moon show. We take the form of a suicide mission story, but we don’t kill them off or we kill off just like the the The Superficial outside periphery type of characters that we can afford to get rid of right, but we don’t have the rights to.
But nobody gets fooled by that. Right? Right. I mean you get with Rogue one. You had a real suicide mission story and you you really felt when these guys, you know, like it was right out of Seven Samurai, but you know even had the samurai guy the blind Samurai guy. Yeah somebody yeah, I mean and when he dies, I mean it hurts it hurts.
So it’s a great form but my point is that that. Something like a Suicide Squad a lot of the failure of that was embedded in the form much like Batman versus Superman. There were certain things that they cannot overcome simply because they have to have repeating characters who cannot get killed and you know, we can’t.
There’s just all kinds of things that were restricted from doing with these stories. But but but but frankly this problem of mixing genres the wrong way you rarely see it on the actual screen because they don’t get that far. If you if you have story chaos in your script trying to make genres it never got Nate 90% of the time, right?
So the big problem with most of the films of the kid made is is typically one. Uh, they don’t they don’t hit these fundamental structure beats, like desire like setting up the opposition properly. That’s so fundamental to a great story. It doesn’t matter what the genre is they they lost the game much deeper, right?
Much earlier in the process when the entire frame of the story was set up in the wrong way. Now. I’m gonna ask you the last few questions, uh that ask all my guests. Um, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanted to break into the business today? That one’s easy? Uh, you have to specialize in 1 John ra.
That doesn’t mean you don’t add other genres to your story, but you’ve got to specialize in a jean. And here’s the reason that the popular storytelling today. I mentioned it’s based on each film is based on great narrative drive, but what creates that under the surface is the particular genre that you’re working in these genres are platforms and they’re extremely complex.
And therefore an and by the way, I’ve never seen it where a professional writer that I know in this town and I know tons of professional writers in this town that that they’ve that they’ve been able to master more than one job. So also it showed them first reason you master one genre is is because it’s really hard to do that right to right at the professional level in that job.
The second reason is that that’s how you set yourself apart from the crowd. You become known on the detective God right? I write detective stories. You wanted to got it right your detective story. You got to come to me right? I’m the comedy God. That’s all I right. But I’m really great at writing calm.
So when they are trying to figure out who we gonna hire to write this or rewrite more likely rewrite this script. Oh, he’s the guy he’s the guy and if we can get him if we can pay him enough money, maybe we can get so then there’s some directors like Nolan who jumps genre every once in a while as well because he’s but he’s a director as well.
So he kind of said and BC is one of the three most powerful popular writer directors in the world, right? He can do whatever the hell he wants. He’s the Kubrick of his day, right and and and we’re not. That’s the point that I tell you know, I always tell write your script Maxima 120 pages, but better if it’s down to or 100 to 110 because Hollywood only gives you 2 hours unless you’re James Cameron, right?
And then you can write as long as you want a billion dollars. You’re not James camera, right? You don’t get to do that. Now, can you tell me the book that took you tell me the book that had the biggest impact on your life or career the book that had the biggest impact on my life or career is what I consider the greatest book on story there is.
Dwarfs everything else. I’m reluctant to tell you simply because it is highly philosophical and when your listeners go to look at it read it, they’re gonna look at that in the first three or four pages and say, you know, are you kidding me? What that there’s no way I’m going to read this. But if you do read it, it’ll blow your mind greatest book on story ever written is called anatomy of criticism by the guy guy by the name of Northrop Frye.
And it makes guys like like Aristotle and Joseph Campbell. I mean there’s these are great guys. These are all in the top 5 of of Masters of story but this guy is up here. Uh, and everybody else is down here. What’s the name of it? Again? It’s called anatomy of criticism. And that’s and that’s one reason why my book on story that just called Anatomy story has that title is because it takes a similar approach in the sense that.
Both books get into story really down at the technical level very specific level instead of again this very theoretical or esoteric stuff that nobody really knows how to apply. It’s totally practical totally useful now his as much more esoteric because essentially running the philosophy of story his understanding of the hero.
And the history of the hero the first of four sections in that book, there’s thing else that’s close to that interesting. I’m gonna read it now. I’ll let you know. Um now what is the lesson I took you to the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life. Oh man. I like to me that one had a thought.
That’s a that’s a tough one. Um, You know, it’s it’s a lesson that I continue to try to learn which is the the Beauty and the complexity of story, uh to me and this is something I always say to writers. Um, unless you’re in for the Long Haul get out now amen because because this is the most complex craft in the world.
Nothing else is closed and if you want. To master that craft that’s a lifetime commitment. I’ve spent my whole life writing and understanding story and I’m not all the way there yet. I know know a little bit about story but there’s a lot more for me to learn. Um, and and so I I believe and and there’s also something I strongly believe in and I tell my students which is you can you know, Apply your whatever your techniques are that you’re going to fly.
But unless you are willing to really get to the level of Mastery of craft right then you’re not going to succeed because and this was the biggest surprise to me in all my years in Hollywood, which is that the most successful writers are not the most intrinsically town. This blew me away first time right the ones that succeed are the ones who have mastered the craft of writing so that so that when a producer comes to hire you they know this person’s a professional they are going to give me a professional script every time that because keep in mind that’s their biggest fear fear as a producer.
Because you’re going into producer is going into a black hole when they hire a writer. They have no control over. They have no idea what they’re gonna get if you have the track record and if you have proven that it doesn’t matter what the job is I always produce professional level material. Then you are going to have more work than you ever thought possible and you’re going to make a ton of money because is quite rich.
And three of your favorite films of all time. Oh, wow. Another one. I wish you had all Seven Samurai. You said Seven Samurai is right at the top. Um, I in my anatomy of story class. Teach I talked about extensively about the Godfather of course, which is just brilliant on every level and so instructive for learning to write and and another just by the way another argument that I make for of this green play as art form this idea that the screenplay is a blueprint for director drives me up a wall.
Read The Godfather script, uh that I mean, it’s just a joy, especially if you love story if you love writing you read that and it’s just, you know, I’ve seen God so that certainly up there I think in terms of. Really the one of the most brilliant scripts of the last 20 years or so. It’s a little bit more than that.
Now as Usual Suspects great script great script absolutely script that is a perfect example of what I was talkin about earlier. Uh, not only hitting the story beats but flipping every one of those story beats in a way that not just a little bit that just blows your mind and you don’t realize how much he’s flipped every story beat until the very last moment of the film.
That’s that’s great, right it is. And that’s a perfect example of the power of someone who can plot this guy that that’s that somebody who understands plot at his high level as you can get and when you can have your final big reveal in the last scene. Which is very few films can do that and do that.
They will anoint you as the next God and you are made for the rest of your life. Well, it’s exactly what happened to Christopher Franzen last name. Yeah. Something like that. Yeah, I should know that. I’m embarrassed that I don’t know that but yeah, but he pretty much started doing whatever he wanted after that.
Yeah. Yeah other another guy who’s a writer director, but he’s really sad too much self apart is uh is in the writing is of this guy McDonough. Um, he did uh In Bruges. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah with some uh, I know you talked about. Yeah, Ray Fiennes and uh and a couple of those other Irish English.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Um, wow again, you want to see textbook great writing take a look at that script. Um, so those are four right there that you know, and I could go on with a few others. I tend to tell you the truth because I I put so much emphasis on genre when people ask me that question on usually say What genre and usually try to come up with one or two in each form because the trick, you know, I was talkin about master Jean the trick is once you’ve chosen your genre then go to the best in that form.
And break them down breakup actually do a scene list of these things and and then and then look to see how they are structured. What’s the underlying structure of the Cielo stir and when you do that, you will start to see how great that genre can be when you’re hitting on all cylinders. Now you’ve been talkin about this worksheet you did for the indie film muscle trap.
Where can they download this worksheet that can be downloaded at?
True forward slash worksheet. Okay Santa’s night. I guarantee your listeners that you go through those filling the you know, the space for your particular story. I guarantee you the narrow drive on your story will immediately improve quite a bit. I promise you. And I will put that link in the show notes as well John.
It has been an epic interview. I know we could talk for another two hours. If not longer. You’re great interviewer Alex.
Thank you again my friend. We’ll talk soon. As I promised you guys John brought the Thunder. Uh, you know, he really I mean for me at least change my perspective on the hero’s journey, uh and what it means and just his hole. Take on storytelling is so remarkable. So I really hope you guys got something out of John stuff.
And if you want to get that worksheet just head over to troubie you be why worksheet and if you want links, um or John’s direct contacts just head over to any film /b p. Zero bulletproof screenplay or BPS and I’ll be the new tag for all of the show notes for the bulletproof screenplay podcast. So thank you for listening.
Thank you tribe. That’s across the system is a crossover event. Uh, I know a lot of the tribes are listening to this episode. So please subscribe head over to screenwriting podcast will take you straight to iTunes and subscribe to this podcast. You’ll be getting now not one not two but three podcasts.
Every week from indie film puzzle to from any film hustle and one from the bulletproof screenplay. I’m really trying to create as much value and content for you guys as humanly possible and please spread the word. So now that you’re done listening to this episode obviously go listen to the rest of them, but when you’re done, Never stop writing no matter what I’ll talk to you soon.
Thanks for listening to the bulletproof screenplay podcast at bulletproof screenplay. That’s bul pla.