Today on the show, we have screenwriter Michael Lucker. Michael is a writer, director, and producer with twenty years of experience creating film, television, animation, and digital media. He began his career writing and directing television commercials while earning his undergraduate degree in broadcasting and film at Boston University’s College of Communication.
Soon after, he landed in Los Angeles working in production on series and specials for ABC, NBC, CBS, and HBO before taking a job as assistant to Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment on feature films Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, Arachnophobia, Joe Vs. The Volcano, Always, Back To The Future II & III, and Jurassic Park.
He went on to serve in creative affairs at Hollywood Pictures, where he worked on such movies as Crimson Tide, Terminal Velocity, Taking Care of Business, and Straight Talk. Michael then embarked on a career as a screenwriter, helping pen more than twenty feature screenplays for Paramount, Disney, DreamWorks, Fox, and Universal, including Vampire In Brooklyn, Home On The Range, Good Intentions and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 as a best-animated feature.
“You don’t have to be a writer of action films to benefit from Michael Lucker’s rock-solid screenwriting advice, but if you are an action writer… it is essential.” — John Baldecchi, Producer: Point Break, The Mexican, Conan the Barbarian
He also served as a screenwriter on the animated sequels of Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Emperor’s New Groove, and 101 Dalmatians. An opportunity to serve as a creative consultant to Turner Entertainment took him home to Atlanta in 2007. He went on to work as a writer, director, and executive producer with non-fiction production houses Shed Media, Crazy Legs Productions, and Trailblazer Studios before launching his own production company, Lucky Dog Filmworks, which now serves as his home for creating films, television, and commercial content. In television, Michael has worked with Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Travel Channel, History, Discovery, NBC, TBS, TLC, OWN, DIY, MSNBC, and A&E.
His new book, Crash! Boom! Bang! How to Write Action Movies.
A fun, insightful insider’s look at the nuts and bolts of writing action movies, from concept to completion, by a professional screenwriter and professor of screenwriting. Full of witty anecdotes from the front lines (and tricks of the trade from between the lines), Crash! Boom! Bang! promises an enjoyable and educational read for writers and students of all levels. Although bullets and bloodshed abound in cinema, the lessons within will benefit screenwriters of all kinds of movies.
Enjoy my conversation with Michael Lucker.
Alex Ferrari 0:28
I like to welcome the show Michael Lucker. Man, thank you so much for being on the show, brother.
Michael Lucker 2:48
Sure. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Alex Ferrari 2:50
So before we get into how to write an insane action movie, let's um, let's see, how do you how did you get into the business in the first place?
Michael Lucker 2:59
I started writing songs for girls I had crushes on in seventh grade that wouldn't give me the time today. And then I graduated writing for the school paper. And then I wrote a play in high school. And then I went off to college and studied writing in Boston. And people thought I was happy semantics. So I moved out to LA to try my hand at making my way on the wild world. And I landed a gig or two and I was unhappy with those. So I started typing. And that made me happy and I ended up getting one script in front of some agents and they got in front of some buyers and I got an option and then I got hired and then I got so and then I became a screenwriter. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 3:45
I'm actually a paid screenwriter which is a rarity. Like a functioning paid screenwriter in the industry. Which is funny you said that used to write songs I too dabbled in in songwriting for a the hearts of young ladies back when I was when I was younger,
Michael Lucker 4:04
and try and like you know, are my favorite. Unfortunately I
Alex Ferrari 4:07
also sung them and nobody will ever hear those
Michael Lucker 4:13
that's why I migrated over the screen
Alex Ferrari 4:15
but yeah, that's not that's not something that anyone will ever see. Because it's in my closet. Literally. But so your first movie if I'm not mistaken was vampire in Brooklyn, right? Or is that the first one that you sold?
Michael Lucker 4:27
First one it wasn't the first one got sold or I got hired to write but it was the first one that got me believe it.
Alex Ferrari 4:35
How many how many scripts that you get optioned or hired to do before that first
Michael Lucker 4:39
one? Probably five we've got a couple things going in Disney it's gonna be a couple things going to Paramount and universal. I think another thing or two and then we got this call on this one. It's kind of like took off.
Alex Ferrari 4:53
And if for people who not don't remember that vampire in Brooklyn start Eddie Murphy in in he was still Eddie Murphy. He's Always Eddie Murphy in my world, he's always Eddie Murphy. But he was at some of the height of his power back then. Because he made basically a vampire film, because he wanted to,
Michael Lucker 5:10
we could do whatever he wanted. I mean, he was one of my heroes growing up, I mean, 48 hours in Beverly Hills Cop religion to me, and so that for me to have a chance as a young man, as a young screenwriter, to write a movie, for one of my all time, favorites was just like a dream come true.
Alex Ferrari 5:27
I mean, coming to America, still arguably the greatest comedy of all time.
Michael Lucker 5:32
against that, but it's one of the at least Welcome to your opinion. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 5:39
So, so you wrote a book called Crash, boom, give us the title of the crash,
Michael Lucker 5:44
boom, crash, boom, bang, how to write action movies.
Alex Ferrari 5:47
Exactly. Now, how do you write action movies? Because you know what? Because action movies are. In today's world, action movies are pretty much prevalent in all of Hollywood studio system. I mean, they're basically action, superhero action, or Fast and Furious action. They're all they're all. They're all IP based, or franchise based. So having a skill set, as at writing a good action movie, is a good skill sets in the studio system, and also outside of the studio system, because action movies travel fairly well, internationally as well. So I know, it's a very broad question. So what are some tips on on how to write a good? And what makes Lisbeth what makes a good action movie? And then we can have a discussion about some good action movies.
Michael Lucker 6:35
Right? Well, I think, you know, little two questions go hand in hand. And what makes a good action movie and how you write a good action movie is based on the same tenants that that make good stories, no matter the genre, is one of the things that's often lost in a lot of the shallower you know, that bid, you know, action films that don't have much depth to the characters into their journeys. And so, when we're writing good stories of ATL, you go back to the hero's journey, and the principles that have been taught since Aristotle and seeing that rate of change and the hero, you know, fixing flaws they had the beginning and going through by going through the adversity that they face along the story to see, you know, how they transform and become, you know, stronger, wiser and more courageous, more humble, more soulful, at the end, what happens, I think, in a lot of action movies is those basic principles are lost, or they try to spread it so thin, especially in sort of films that have too many primary, you know, characters up top, they're trying to develop everybody, you don't get to get into anybody in much detail. And so we as the audience may not connect with them as deeply, or as honestly as we could, because the studio isn't trying to give a little something of everybody to everybody in the audience. So you know, when people say, How do you write a great action movie, and like, learn how to write a great movie, learn how to write a great story.
Alex Ferrari 8:11
So there's you and I see a you and I are from the same vintage, if you will, a July's. So we kind of grew up watching, it sounds like we both grew up watching a lot of the same great action movies of the day. So I mean, I personally think that the 80s and 90s but the 80s had a just is a golden age for action movies. You know, cuz 70s me you know, we got smoking a band and that kind of stuff. But they didn't come into it really into their own heavily into the 80s. So I want to talk about three movies and I want to hear what you think about them. I think they're three of their top five in my world. Diehard diehard obviously. Absolutely. Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon first one of my faves, and Predator. The first predator predator is your third. It's not like an order. I'm just saying that there's other action movies that I enjoy too. I mean, obviously Commando. Not joking. But I mean, I do love it for my cat. If I watched that movie today, I'm sure I'm gonna go, oh, this is horrible. But in my mind, it's still pretty awesome. But I could watch Die Hard. I watch it every year as a Christmas movie, because I did a whole episode on how it's the greatest Christmas movie of all time. Then there's lethal weapon, which I could still watch today. And it holds and you can watch predator. And it still holds. And at least for me, and I was wondering what you think about what like diehard we've talked about a nauseum. And we all know that's, you know, the his the hero's journey, the every man. I mean, what do you just really quickly what let's go over diehard real quick and what makes it such an amazing action
Michael Lucker 9:46
movie? Well, I'll say this, you're speaking my language really? Because it puts anything in perspective for you when I was a young man out of film school, coming from the East Coast and I landed in North Hollywood and I got my first job. In my little home law apartment, I had it, you know, off magnolia. I had two posters framed on my bedroom wall, and they were lethal. Largely because that was just part of, you know, the lexicon at the time. They kind of helped shape me as a young storyteller and filmmaker. When you got great writers like, you know, Jeff Stewart and Stephen Setzer and Shane Black, of course, and remains one of my favorites. They did things at the time, that revolution that revolution level, revolutionized, yeah, revolutionized Nike writer, the way storytelling was done. And they brought heart and soul and pain and flaws to the heroes in a way that a lot of traditional action movies had not done as much prior. And so we really identified connected with and cheered for those for you know, John McClane and Martin Riggs in ways that we had not done for heroes. Before that, so those movies I mean, to me, are quintessential and I encourage all writers who are interested in doing action movies to not only see those movies and study those movies, but read the scripts and look at how those writers crafted those images and created that tension and scenes and create that sort of identification, you know, for the audience and leader to have with those
Alex Ferrari 11:33
heroes. Yeah, Shane. Shane is Shane Black is arguably one of the greater he's in the top lexicon of, of screenwriters in general. But what he did and some of those early scripts usually you read the original last Boy Scout, not what was made but the original last Boy Scout. Long Kiss Good night. Lethal Weapon I think he didn't do lethal up into I think he did just a story of lethal weapon too. But every bone did. Yeah. But that was still also a great a great film as well. Lethal Weapon. He didn't write now he wrote the New predators. He didn't read the old predator. But but just was just watching his descriptions. Yeah, his This is his vocabulary was so and he breaks rules, he breaks rules left and right, you know, the way he writes the description how he does it. It's just like when Tarantino you know, when he writes his dialogue, he just breaks, he breaks rules all the time. But they're masters, they're absolute masters. And they you have to you have to read those scripts.
Michael Lucker 12:33
Yeah, you really do. Because like seeing the movies is one thing to working on screen. But you know, given you know, the quantity of scripts that consumed in the studio, every year, the scripts that rise to the top, really have to stand on their own, in order to stand out. And that means the words they use, you know, the images they convey as concisely and as creatively as they do, puts you in that moment puts you in that place that you really feel like you are, you know, in that car chase, or you know, scaling down that mountain or being thrown out that window.
Alex Ferrari 13:12
No question and like when I watch Lethal Weapon, because that was during my video store days, when I worked at a video store. I must have watched Lethal Weapon like 2030 times it was just such a the character of rigs, his transformation to the end if you just didn't see that, that was just something that wasn't done in action movies. It was so revolutionary and I mean diehard took that to another place, as well, both of them in their own way. But you're right, it was just you felt for so before you would have like you would have Schwarzenegger show up and write you know Schwarzenegger and Stallone, they would just be these hyper real Gods basically that could do no wrong and they could, you know, shoot guns until the cows come home and they never get hurt. I got dinged and I just keep going don't have time to bleed and, and all that kind of stuff up. But then you got something like diehard where John McLean's character is, he's a normal dude, going through normal stuff, and he doesn't look like an Adonis. And you got Martin Riggs, who also doesn't look like an Adonis and he's a very fractured character as a human being. He's on literally on these on the edge. Good. Well, one of
Michael Lucker 14:27
the things that I think Shane Black did and they do a die hard as well is the transformation of the hero is represented in such a clear and subtle and powerful way. That whether we're conscious of that as an audience member or unconscious of it, we feel it and so for example, and lethal weapon you might remember when we meet Martin Riggs, he's got a special Silver Bullet loaded in his gun and he's got it in his mouth, not ready to take his own life over the green Think deals over the loss of his wife, right? So, that's the opening shot of our hero. And for us to see that in the 80s it's like, this is our hero, a guy who's like living, you know, in a trailer alone on the beach with a gun in his mouth. What happens to the course the movie is he grows and we build a self esteem and re and finds a new sense of purpose as through his job and through saving my dog and his family, and ultimately, others. And by the end of the movie, and this is what makes like Shane Black's writing so powerful. The last scene of the movie, if you remember his rig, walking up the Murdochs house, and given him that same silver bullet that he was gonna use to take his own life as a Christmas present when he came for Christmas dinner. And it was he goes, it's a bullet and rigs last line of the movie is Yeah, I don't need it anymore.
Alex Ferrari 15:56
Oh, it's just, it's just so good. And the music, okay, those little things
Michael Lucker 16:00
that we try and teach and talk about in, in, you know, in academics, you know, setting or, you know, in lecture or seminars, is the kind of stuff that really makes I think movies resonate with audiences on a wide scale.
Alex Ferrari 16:21
And I think another movie that it's not often thrown in that list, but should be in my opinion, is the original Robocop.
Michael Lucker 16:29
I completely agree.
Alex Ferrari 16:30
It's such a good movie. And at the end, on the surface, it's just a good action movie. But if you go back into layers of onions, and what Verhoeven and the writer are trying to talk about, in that film, oh, it's so
Michael Lucker 16:46
good. One minor was the writer of that. Yeah, and you'll be happy to know that diehard Lethal Weapon and Robocop are all three of the movies I talk about in my book.
Alex Ferrari 16:57
Yeah. As you should, sir. As as you as you should, sir. So alright, so with every good hero, there has to be a good villain. And in so many action movies, the villains are horrible. They're just bad. They're one dimensional. They're paper. They're twisting the moustache kind of heroes. But in but in, Let's just analyze those three movies, Robocop, Lethal Weapon and diehard? The villains are almost as memorable, if not more memorable, sometimes than the hero itself or on par. So with diehard pawns, everyone I mean, you can't think of McLean without thinking of Hons you can't think of Mr. Joshua. The, the great Gary Busey. Right, when he was great, um, what he was great. Um, and then and Robocop, the, the corporate, the corporate CEO?
Michael Lucker 17:52
Yeah, there was just so evil. We often say in screenwriting, right, that, that the hero can only be as powerful and strong and their, their victory can only be as rewarding as the opponent's merit. So if you have an unfavorable villain, then it's not going to mean too much for you know, Luke Skywalker to take, you know, out, you know, some, you know, that mushy little dude with his lightsaber, but when Darth Vader is a formidable bad guy, then there's something to happen there. So you need in good stories, right? Whether it's a love story and drama or comedy, you need a formidable opponent, in order for the audience to invest in and feel victory when the hero defeats them. Right? South so that's one thing about being powerful opponents. The other thing to consider is that just as good heroes have strengths and weaknesses and have their skills and also have their their flaws. So to should good opponents. And that's one of the things that happens in all those movies is they're not the totally, you know, mustache, you know, black hat wearing, you know, one note villains, they might be doing horrible things, but they have their own justification for doing them. Or sometimes they started on a path that led to things beyond way that they ever expected. So the trick is to find a balance between that formative ability, right, and also that human aspect. And even in something like predator, it's what makes that movie resonate with audience because when Schwarzenegger finally has the predator down, you know, and he has them, you see the humanity really, in the monster. And and that's the moment where your hero Schwarzenegger has to make the more choice whether he's going to put a spike through the guy's face, you know or not. Are we going to arrive above, you know, the lowness that the elite.
Alex Ferrari 20:04
So there's two movies that come to mind because I think you're right. I absolutely think you're right. In regards to having a great you have to have a great feeling to have a good hero it without one or the other. It doesn't work. It's the yin and the yang. But then there's movies like Bloodsport, which, again, in my mind, fantastic. I, if I watched it today, we'll probably tear it apart. But if I remember correctly, the villain wasn't particularly a deep villain, but he was physically a threat. And that's why that fight at the end, and the whole journey is weak as the story might have been in that movie. That's why, you know, it was just such a massive man. And they built them up so much that it made it made that fight at the end or the whole journey up into that fight, work. To a certain extent, again, I know Bloodsport shouldn't even be in the same conversation as the movies we've been talking about. But just I just want the audience understand the physicality now. Physicality does count for something like Darth Vader's, like, six, seven. So he's also a very large, large man. But then you look at a movie like commando which again, which is not a great film. And I think one of the reasons it's not, there's many reasons why it's not great. It is great in my mind, but not great in traditional lines, is the villain. He looked like a pipsqueak next to Arnold, do you remember that? I even as a kid, I'm like, that's not a challenge for art, like Arnold could take that guy in a fight. But when we get to predator, that's a whole other conversation. And, and the predator is not a deep character. He's a very one dimensional character who does not change throughout the entire process of the film. But his abilities are what are formidable to an entire elite crew that make that movie work. I would love to just, you know, hear your thoughts on it.
Michael Lucker 21:56
Sure. Well, I think that those movies that you mentioned the BloodSport and the commando and the Predator, they don't have sort of the depth and humanity and, and sort of, you know, dexterity of some of the other villains that we talked about in the really good movies. And I think that's a sort of juxtaposition to see, you know, in the good movies that are remembered. Right, become iconic, you know, there are great heroes who are saddled, you know, in extraordinary situations against formable villains with death. And when you don't have that, then no matter how cool sexy smart and creative your hero is, it doesn't really carry as much, much weight
Alex Ferrari 22:42
so you're telling me that splits aren't gonna make it the story better? Not like Yeah, yeah, I still I still try to do it and it doesn't work. I don't know how John cloud does it. I mean, he made an entire career off that damn split. I remember that every movie cuz that was a huge I mean, I was a kid so when he was those movies were coming out every movie did work a split it somewhere like in the weirdest place.
Michael Lucker 23:11
But I just I saw Mission Impossible to was on TV last night. And I love Mission Impossible, and I'm a big Tom Cruise fan. But Tom Cruise was doing his quintessential sprint.
Alex Ferrari 23:25
Videos. He just running.
Michael Lucker 23:27
I think it's in his contract, he must run at least 100 yards at full tilt in every movie. That's something that studios have identified you know, in and films. You know, we want to make audiences want to see Brad Pitt take your shirt off, and audiences want to see you know, Tom Cruise began. So I think the Sprint's and the splits will both contractual promises.
Alex Ferrari 23:54
And Tom is one of those units, Thomas, you know, talking about these old action movies. I mean, these were, these were movie stars. You know, these guys were movie stars. And nowadays, there aren't as many movie stars anymore. The movie star power is gone. Where before a commando would be made purely on the on the strength of Arnold. A movie like that would never be made without movie star power behind it. Even today's well, we'll talk about today's world in a second,
Michael Lucker 24:22
I think. I mean, you're bringing it up. So I think I think it's a combination of the nature of the marketplace, right? Because of proliferation of digital media and the fact that anybody can sit on their couch, you know, in their den and turn on 1000 channels, you know, have that at their beck and call and watch whatever they want. It needs to be something special, to get them off the couch, to come into a dark theater to sit with strangers to pay 15 bucks off to get in the door, let alone 10 bucks for popcorn. So, in order to do that, it needs to be a big spectacle. And big spectacles cost money, and you got to have a big movie star in those spectacles for the, you know, justify the expense.
Alex Ferrari 25:09
But would you agree, though, that that Chris Evans isn't a movie star, but Captain America is?
Michael Lucker 25:17
I think that's a great example because I saw Chris Evans an action movie before he was known.
Alex Ferrari 25:24
Yeah, he's a he's a good actor. And he's done a bunch of stuff, good actor, and he's got a bunch of stuff.
Michael Lucker 25:29
And then I remember this Captain America movie came out. And I was like, Who's this guy? Who's gonna go watch this guy do anything? And, and I think he's fantastic in the role. Oh, but, but he and he's a great actor. But you're right, there is a difference between between being a great actor and being a movie star. And some of those things are, you know, energetic, and soulful and undescribable. You know, some people just have it. And some people as talented as they are, just may not.
Alex Ferrari 26:03
And also, and also, the other thing is that, and I think this is important for screenwriters listening, is that a lot of times I think if I could just get like my screenplay to Chris Evans, and I'm not picking on Chris, but basically, I just, if I could get it to Chris Evans, or I can get it to Daniel Craig, or if I can get it to, you know, one of those characters, or one of those actors who play those big roles, either James Bond or spider man or something like that. They don't have outside to suit outside the character. They don't have the marketability. They're good. They're huge stars. But you look at Robert Downey. He just came out with Dr. Doolittle. And it tanked and right and Robert and Robert Downey Jr. is probably one of the most famous actors in the world. He's one of the most talented actors of his generation. He's, he's amazing. But yet, doctors did not drive sales to Dr. Doolittle. The only thing outside of Marvel that's had any sort of success is the Sherlock Holmes movies. And that's a one off, so he hasn't been able to like, unlike Arnold or Stallone that he would they would just pump out. Because they were movie stars in an age of movie stars, where I think the age of movie stars is kind of over for the most part, there are certain like, the rock is the closest thing I think we have. Yeah, and even then, if he's not the right movie, you put you put the rock in a drama, it's not gonna work.
Michael Lucker 27:22
Right? Well, it's it's a good point, I think that, you know, times are changing. And it's one thing to remember is that, you know, you said there are no movie stars now, or they're not what they once were. And I would just qualify that by saying, maybe there's not as many as there were, and there's not as many right now. But it doesn't mean the landscape is going to change, because even though we're in the wild west with 1000, channels and digital platforms, things continue to evolve. Oh, yeah. Filmmakers, and brilliant studio bosses are continually trying to ride those waves and oftentimes surprised by by what they find. So I think, you know, we are in the middle of sort of a renaissance of sorts, where things are changing, and everybody's trying to figure it out.
Alex Ferrari 28:11
Nobody knows anything. Every I mean, no, like, everyone's on Tata. Exact, nobody knows nothing. And but I think I think that Disney is probably one of the only companies out there who really got it early on, they're like, you know, what's going to come? IP, we need to buy as much IP as we can. And that's what they did. And now they just made what I think it was 10 billion gross this year at the box office. So they basically were out of every, you know, I mean, they just don't have 567 movies that broke a billion dollars. They figured something out where I think the rest of the studios are trying to try to find like, you know, Harry Potter's gone. They can't unless until they reboot it, you know, Fast and Furious only has how many
Michael Lucker 28:54
things you have to credit them for having the vision for thought, you know, of Iger and the rest of them? No, yeah, Eisenhower days, you know, he built he started it is they all recognize the power of you know, owning you know, property that not only would reach audiences going forward and masses, but also had reach audience and mass prior to that. And they were willing to spend a few extra bucks and outbid others in order to hold on to that thing, knowing that they can take a Star Wars in turn out a Mandalorian and solo and everything else out of the brain that they own. Because, as we all know, as writers, studios own it, they get to do whatever they want with it,
Alex Ferrari 29:43
for better or for worse. Better or For Worse. Now, that brings up a good point as writers, you know, as screenwriters coming up in the world, because I know when you started, and when I started was a completely different landscape, completely different way of doing business. There was much Less competition, even though it was still a brutal time as far as competition, but now there's there's a lot more opportunity, but there's a lot more competition. Where do you think a screenwriter should focus on if they're going to write an action movie? It because I know a lot of international write these giant tentpole action movies and that are not based on IP, there are originals. And I'm like, Dude, if you want it as a, as a as a writing sample, fantastic. But the chances of the studio putting $100 million or plus, in a non IP action movie is gonna be different unless you're James Cameron, and you come up with avatar, and that's a different conversation. But where do you think they should focus? Should they show focus on the lower budget action movies, which there's still a lot of, you know, 15 20 million and below kind of things that are done for International, the Nicolas Cage movies, the you know, those kind of films that still have a marketplace? for them? It's a little bit easier to get into? I'm just curious, where your where you stand on that, do you think we'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show?
Michael Lucker 31:10
Well, I think you're right, that the, the expansion of opportunities based on you know, the, the elevation and technology is granted more chances for more writers to do more things. Same time, the money may not be as much as it was, but there may be more opportunity. So, you know, all my writer friends I know are writing everything they can, you know, and that means they're writing features, and they're writing and television, and they might be writing, you know, commercial copy as well, because they're writers and they love to write, and it's part of their soul. And that's why people should write is to tell good stories, and, and help you know, change the world, ideally, make it a better place, you know, and lift, lift spirits, and you know, warm hearts and all those things. And if you get into the writing business, for the wrong reasons, because you make a million dollars, or you're trying to prove their high school principal that you could amount to something one day or, you know, prove to the girlfriend that jaded you and elementary school, then then you're doing it for the wrong reason, it's gonna be a long, rocky road. So I think the bottom line is write everything you can and do it because you know, you love it and kind of let the universe sort of support you in that path. Because it's hard to control things once they leave the theater.
Alex Ferrari 32:46
Preach My friend preach. Now, I've heard many times before from other screenwriting gurus or people that are in the screenwriting, educational space, and also from screenwriters in general, that studios looked for a certain amount of action sequences, spread out through your seats as you could literally count them like there's an action sequence, eight minutes later, another action eight minutes later, or 10 minutes later, in your experience. What's your school of thought on that?
Michael Lucker 33:16
Well, it's interesting. It's a great question. You know, we all kind of understand an inherent three act structure, right? And Joel Silver producer of lethal weapon diehard incidentally, came along with what I believe he termed the the whammo chart, and it was like something significant needs to happen that surprises the audience every 10 pages. So if you're looking at a two hour movie or at 120 pages, you're looking at basically 11 significant surprises along the way. So you can kind of extrapolate that in some ways, and apply it to content of any length. But at the same time, you got to remember that you know, audiences today are different from audiences that you know, grew up on Lethal Weapon and I are like you and I did right and they're used to not only seeing things much faster, but they're also used to watching three or four screens at the same time. You he almost needed I think, in some ways increase the quantity of surprises as long as they're germane to the story and organic to character so that you are keeping you know, the a DD and ADHD, you know, generation from changing the channel when they're sitting at home on their couch, or from getting up and going for gummy bear to the theater and not coming back.
Alex Ferrari 34:37
Do you remember the indie movie Run Lola Run?
Michael Lucker 34:41
I know of it. I don't remember the movie The movie itself.
Alex Ferrari 34:43
I remember that. It was literally non stop tension or action the entire like it was just like, yeah, just it didn't stop. And I found it exhausting. Like so. This dangerous.
Michael Lucker 34:56
It is dangerous. And I learned that lesson the hard way. I was at a pitch at DreamWorks with Jeffrey Katzenberg and I was pitching to him an action movie. And I remember saying something along ridiculous along the lines of, you know, it's going to be nonstop action. It's going to be, you know, one of the, it's going to be a fantastic action movie. And a very simply and bluntly as he's known to do, because Michael, you, it can't be all action. I was like, why it's an action movie, come on, it'll be great. He's like, No, you have to have those roles, those moments of reflection, those moments of recovery, you know, in order for there to be a little bit of juxtaposition and diversity in terms of the story flow, and in terms of the audience's journey. And if you don't have those things, not only a chance for the hero to rest, and recover and reflect the triumph of the audience, too, then you're really missing out on the opportunity to surprise number elevate them, you know, on the roller coaster ride have ups and downs, on the next turn.
Alex Ferrari 35:58
That's why the roller coaster is not all the way up for a mile and then all the way down for a mile. That's why there's ups and downs. Because if not, you couldn't handle it. And the same thing goes for like tension. Like if you watch a Hitchcock film, he's such a master at it. And you just you just play the audience like like a fiddle, and he'd go up and he'd go down, and he goes up. But if you hold it too long, you hold that note too long, just like in a song, you're gonna lose the audience.
Michael Lucker 36:23
The interesting thing about a Hitchcock that always really impressed me was how he not only would he managed tension, but he would manage the audience's allegiance with characters. Oh, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 36:35
Michael Lucker 36:36
the hero for eight minutes. And then we'll go through a door and we'll be on the other side of the door with the villain stuck in a situation. And we'll be rooting for the villain waiting for him to you know, I worried about him getting caught by the cops that we were just cheering for a minute ago. And he would take our emotions and put them back and forth. Like nobody had ever seen sense.
Alex Ferrari 36:58
Yeah, I mean, and let's not even get into psycho. I mean, killing off. I mean, sorry, spoiler alert, everyone killing off the main movie star in the first act just like what can you imagine in 1960? Doing that, like it's all new? Yeah, it was insane.
Michael Lucker 37:16
I think it's one of the things that made gameofthrones so successful until the end, was that
Alex Ferrari 37:22
until the end, we never knew
Michael Lucker 37:25
whose head was going to get chopped off. Right? Or what other body part might get chopped off? You know, we were always surprised. They kept us you know, Benioff. And Weiss kept us on the edge of our seats. You know, every every night we tuned in.
Alex Ferrari 37:39
Did you? Are you a fan of Walking Dead?
Michael Lucker 37:44
No, is the quick answer to it. So, you know, I live in Atlanta now. Right. And so it is a part of, you know, the Atlanta culture. And certainly with the proliferation of film production in Georgia now, Walking Dead A Vampire Diaries are two of the series in recent years, that help Stan as a healthy foundation to build much of this, you know, production
Unknown Speaker 38:10
Michael Lucker 38:12
So it's big worldwide, I think it's recognized as being one of the if not the most successful television show in history, right, broadcast or otherwise. And I was just never a big fan of zombies. And people will come to me, it's all about the characters it is. And I get it. And I've seen a few episodes, but this was never my jam. And when guys would come, you know, merging out of the shadows, you know, with their faces peeling off and your eyes falling out, you know, the same goal of eating our hero eye. It just didn't grab it didn't grab me, you know, where it grabs many other people. It just goes to show you can't please all people all the time, you have to tell the story to the best you can for you know, the market you hope to achieve? Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 39:06
I mean, I was a fan of that show for probably about five or six seasons. But then there was a major there's a main character that a villain that came in and they he just kept beating are the characters I've loved so much that June, there was no break. So the villain Deegan was just he was just it was just like a punch. But normally when you have a villain that's like that powerful. You got to get a couple licks in. But they just kept beating it to the point where I just got tired of watching my characters that I'd fallen in love with get beaten so much. I'm like, I'm out. I can't, I just can't deal with this anymore. And it turned me off personally. And the ratings did eventually go down. I think they had been going down a little bit. It's still super popular. But that was that was a mistake that I saw. I was like, I can never do that with a character of mine. Where if you have a Imagine if Darth Vader never He just kept pounding on Luke to the point where Luke just couldn't ever get up. What's the point? What's the The point,
Michael Lucker 40:01
yeah, well, you're right, we don't want to see that we're investing in those characters. And if it makes you feel any better I, you know, I'm teaching Screenwriting at university here. And I often take a temperature read on, on what's happening in culture and the zeitgeist based on my 1920 21 year old, you know, students in the program, and when I had them watch Walking Dead A couple weeks ago, talking about how, you know, film production and television production is, you know, increased in the state. And I asked them why they lost interest. And they said the exact same thing, really, characters, because somebody identify with this character or identify with that character. And in general, the answer was, because they kept killing off the people that we love. So if you're doing that, and to Game of Thrones credit, what they did do was if they killed off somebody, were bringing in somebody new bringing somebody new, bring somebody new, and so that there's constantly rebirth. Wow, there was death.
Alex Ferrari 41:06
Yeah, and that was one of the big problems like I with walking dead in generals like they would kill off it. I mean, that was kind of the exciting thing that you never knew who there was no one safe, really, except for maybe a couple of top guys. Uh, you know, they're not gonna kill off. And you'll be like, No, is this the week? No, don't don't ah, why did you get rid of them. And that's always a rough, it's a rough situation. And even though they brought new guys, but then they would kill them off. It was just like, emotionally, it's, it's a bit much.
Michael Lucker 41:33
I wonder if, in the old days before social media allowed everybody to vent and talk about everything that was happening, if that was a more insular experience, and, and also a more secretive experience. Now, if somebody dies in an episode, everybody's gonna know about it within 90 seconds of it happening, because it's all over social media. And so for those who haven't seen it, yet, it's ruining the surprise of the filmmakers or show creators have worked so hard to create, oftentimes, over many episodes, or even many seasons.
Alex Ferrari 42:09
Yeah, and it's it's a it's, it's look at storytelling in general, from the times, when we were coming up to now, the audience is so much more savvy, so much more educated. They understand terminology, like plot points, like the hero's journey, like the you know, the point of no return. These are things that a lot of audience members, even if they might not know, the articulation of it, they can recognize it. Because they've been like, there's generations, we've just been raised like I was a TV guy, I'm sure you weren't, we watch TVs and movies, constantly growing up vs. VHS came up. And that was the first time we could just watch anything and everything all the time. But now take that and put it on steroids. And, and now it's everything's instant ever made. It's
Michael Lucker 42:55
just to do now with storytellers, what I encourage my students to do is to take the sort of paradigms that we're used to, that they're used to, and manipulate it in freshing ways. And I think it's one of the reasons, you know, Christopher Nolan's work has such popularity is because He's twisting and turning at such a rate and surprising us in such a way nowadays, that even though you do know about plot points, and character arcs, are seeing those things turned on their ear. And that is refreshing. And that is exciting. Same thing
Alex Ferrari 43:33
with Terran. Tinos work like you, there's certain but the guys you're talking, just putting those two in the same sentence like they're their absolute masters,
Michael Lucker 43:42
right. And this is part of what I preach to is their masters because they understand the foundations of the genre and foundations of the medium, first and foremost, those things better than anybody, which allows them the healthy footing to take it and mix it all up and doing the whole new way.
Alex Ferrari 44:05
Yeah, it's, but you need you're right. It's kind of like being a master baker, and you know, every element of the ingredients and what those ingredients can do. And now I'm going to I'm going to do something that you've never seen before, but I understand if you need me to make a chocolate cake, I'll make your chocolate cake. It's gonna blow your mind. Right, but my chocolate cake now it's gonna explode and you're gonna love it. All. Right, well, yeah, and just like Avocado Chocolate cake. What? And then you taste it. Like how have I not thought of this before? And that's like watching a terrorist, you know, and move it. And one thing you talk about in your book, sneaky transitions. Can you can you elaborate about that a little bit?
Michael Lucker 44:45
Sure. So speaking of all action movies, you remember Highlander? Off course, it shouldn't be only one
Alex Ferrari 44:53
right? It should be it actually. I wouldn't mind a reboot of that. I would love to see like
Michael Lucker 44:58
a good one. Yeah, that would be a good reboot. Yeah, so one of the things that I loved about that movie is that the transitions, were so clever and subtle, taking us not only from one scene to the next, but oftentimes from one time period to another time period. And it made the storytelling, creed, creative, and effortless. And those transitions were part of the story. So it wasn't like a jarring departure, a jarring transition, when when those transitions can be part of the story and help push storyboard or help reveal character some way or help elevate, you know, the overall theme of the story. That's when I think movies are working on all cylinders, because not only is character writing stories, right, and actions, right, but also, going from one scene to the next just keeps us on an even keel moving without stopping to realize that we're actually in a movie. And that's something that drives me crazy and movies, is that when we get pushed and pulled out of the film, it's it removes us from sort of the emotional connection we have with a hero. My students love Deadpool, and I can appreciate the masterful Olmec and the incredibly brilliant acting and the little, you know, dialogue, I admire all that. But I'm constantly being pulled out of that story. Because of its meta this and reminds me I'm watching a story. And so I am partially because I grew up on, you know, older films. So I don't want people to keep jumping in and reminding me that, you know, we're watching a movie, I want to be lost in it, and feeling it, you know, and I think smooth transitions allow us to do that.
Alex Ferrari 46:56
And of course, the soundtrack of Queen I mean, that also helped that movie.
Michael Lucker 47:02
Alex Ferrari 47:05
was so amazing. That's such a it's such a great film. Um, now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Michael Lucker 47:18
We've already been hitting this a little bit, but learn the craft. I mean, a lot of people have great ideas, and they crank them out on cocktail napkins or paper towels. Right. But taking them from great ideas to write screenplays takes an understanding of the way movies are woven in the way stories are told. And so whether it's taking seminars, taking workshops, taking classes, reading scripts, watching movies, all those things are going to help educate you in a way for you to develop your own style. I think a lot of students you know, and you know, workshop attendees, or potential students and you know, attendees have reservations, thinking that understanding the way what they turn formula or template or structure is going to impede their creative process. And I say does not help you. So I think that is the first thing. And also knowing that, like, if you write a great script, I think and you get it in the hands of people that recognize great scripts, the universe is going to conspire to support you. Right. So it's like, you don't have to figure out you know, everything. But the hardest thing to figure out is how to write great screenplays. And I've had a number of students over the years, in workshops or otherwise, that when they wrote great scripts, they consistently would win a Screencraft Festival, and slam dance and Nashville and Austin and Atlanta, because those independent festival panels of judges, but we're looking at great screenplays that we're looking at 800 here 1200 They're 2000. They're all recognize that great writing. So really, the key is write a great script, and then get it into the hands of people that recognize great scripts.
Alex Ferrari 49:14
Excellent advisor. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Michael Lucker 49:23
The answer to both is the same and it's listen better? Yes, you know, I think, you know, oftentimes, you know, we writers are communicators and we are expressive and we are when given the opportunity or not given the opportunity. We want to impose our opinions, our values, our beliefs, our thoughts, and you know, I'm as a teacher in me that wants to help teach, right, so you're constantly expressing what the problem is, if you're constantly you know, Gabin then there's no room for you to really learn the ninth grade, you know, Zen teaching that something along the lines of You know, the this the speed, the the wise, our silence, basically, and those who are unwise other talkers. So I think the more you can listen to feedback you're given from those you're working with in a creative setting. And those in your personal lives as well, I think it will help make you a better writer, and
Alex Ferrari 50:39
what is the biggest fear you had to overcome when you was writing your first script?
Michael Lucker 50:46
Wow, the biggest fear, oh, I remember, it probably wasn't the first script, it was the second script. But I was so caught up in trying to dunk the double cross and triple cross and quadruple cross the audience to make it the coolest, clever attorney clever, and that I could, that I got so lost in it, that I couldn't find my way out of it. It's because I didn't have a foundational understanding of time, I learned a lot doing it. But because I was so caught up in the maelstrom and a storm of all those double crosses, I literally couldn't, you know, find a clear road to finishing. It took me a long time. Like, you know, contractually, now as writers with a W GA, if we're hired to write an original screenplay, we get 12 weeks and we have to deliver in 12 weeks. You don't get six months, or eight months or two years, you know. And so and that can happen if you don't have a clear roadmap. And that's where I'm clear understanding of storytelling and structure helps. Because you don't get lost, you don't get stuck.
Alex Ferrari 51:59
And three of your favorite films of all time. Wow,
Unknown Speaker 52:03
we talked about two
Alex Ferrari 52:04
of them. Okay, so diehard, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard,
Michael Lucker 52:07
good, definitely up there on all time. You know, and I gotta say the one movie that was the movie that led me to realize as a young punk that I wanted to become a filmmaker was the writers the last are so good. So when I was a young man, Atlanta, Georgia, and Atlanta, Georgia, I stumbled out of the theater. And I remember looking up at the stars, after the movie thinking that's what I want to do with my life. And when I was 21, and I landed in Los Angeles as a young man, you know, my first year out of film school. The job I landed was working for Steven Spielberg, on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade became full circle in a ways that in a way that you know, a few people have the good fortune of
Alex Ferrari 53:00
well, we'll have to do another episode on The Last Crusade adventures because I'd love to know how that was that set?
Michael Lucker 53:07
Let's like Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 53:09
Now where can people find you and your book and everything about what you're doing?
Michael Lucker 53:14
Sure. So my book crash boom, bang had right action movies is available in Barnes and Noble if there's any of those left and on Amazon, and my publishers website, which is W. M. wp.com. And it screenwriting workshops, usually housed at Emory University in Atlanta a few times a year. And that's screenwriter school comm. And they can follow us for tidbits, and tricks on screenwriting on Facebook, and they can email me anytime if they wish at Michael at screenwriter school.com.
Alex Ferrari 53:53
Be careful what you wish for Jim, I get a couple emails. So Michael, thank you so much for coming on man and then dropping the knowledge bombs on the on the drive today. So thank you again, man!
Michael Lucker 54:04
Thank you very enjoyed it very much.
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