How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

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  • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

    Originally posted by TheConnorNoden View Post
    I wouldn't. It's a pretty plotless film that doesn't really require a beat by beat breakdown. On paper it shouldn't work but it's a masterpiece all the same. Try and take something from that.
    That seems kind of lazy to me.

    To pick a huge commercial and critical success, Forrest Gump:
    If my memory serves me well: Forrest wants to marry Jenny. She's his antagonist and his need/weakness. It remains unfulfilled in the end, which makes the story bittersweet. Since it's written like a biography, Forrest is trying to find meaning in his life's story. The episodic nature of the story gives it several other antagonists. I probably should do more story breakdowns.

    Excellent example to demonstrate the extreme foolishness of believing that a screenplay can be assembled like IKEA furniture with a DIY-screenplay kit.
    Yes, the process is quite the opposite of mechanical. You have to apply analytical aswell as creative techniques.

    If you are too analytical, you'll never create much content and you'll end up with something mechanical. On the other hand, if you are too creative, you will end up with a structureless mess.
    Last edited by Yaso; 11-15-2015, 03:02 PM.

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    • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

      Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
      To pick a huge commercial and critical success, Forrest Gump:

      BEGINNING (NEED/WEAKNESS): Forrest doesn't have a need - he begins the film with the same attitude he ends it with. You could say his reduced intelligence is a weakness, but not in the classic sense, because he constantly excels despite it and it never changes.
      GOAL: No overarching goal. Sure, there are things he wants along the way, but none that define the movie.
      ANTAGONIST: Nope. Again, there are different people/events who are against him, but none in the classical sense.
      STRATEGY: Nope.
      FINALE: Nope. I guess you could say maybe it's finding out he has a son? Maybe? Only because it's near the end. He never wanted a son or worked towards a son, it just happened. Like everything else.
      EPIPHANY: Nope.
      ENDING: The film does end.

      It's basically a picaresque story, but instead of the usual anti-hero, there's a naif. There are plenty of great picaresque stories, and one of the things that defines them is that there's no plot or character development.

      Aside from the fact that it begins and ends, it has none of the elements listed. Best picture, best adapted screenplay.
      Fascinating, Jeff. Curious if you consider FG a tragedy? That is, although the dim-witted Forest experiences some extraordinary moments, he fails to obtain the goal his dying mother set for him - discovering his destiny. For most of us, destiny is an abstraction, rather than a real force. But in Forest's mind, destiny was real, something that could be found. Perhaps that's why we cried as much as laughed throughout his journey.

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      • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

        Originally posted by Yaso View Post
        If my memory serves me well: Forrest wants to marry Jenny. She's his antagonist and his need/weakness. It remains unfulfilled in the end, which makes the story bittersweet. Since it's written like a biography, Forrest is trying to find meaning in his life's story. The episodic nature of the story gives it several other antagonists. I probably should do more story breakdowns.
        So Jenny is the need/weakness, the goal and the antagonist? Or the goal is trying to find meaning?

        I guess you can make a case for almost anything, but I'd be hard pressed to break the story down that way. Jenny's his best friend as a child, he loves her, but he certainly doesn't seem to pursue her. He stumbles across her a few times, and when she shows up briefly and gets pregnant, it's not because of anything Forrest does: she just walks up on the porch and moves in.

        I'd say she's a narrative device that helps tie the disparate stories together.

        My bottom line is: I think starting out with even the most seemingly universal and reduced story structure, like yours, there's no way someone could create Forrest Gump. If you had the basic idea for it and tried to fit it to those few points, you'd end up with a drastically different movie.

        Originally posted by bioprofessor
        Fascinating, Jeff. Curious if you consider FG a tragedy? That is, although the dim-witted Forest experiences some extraordinary moments, he fails to obtain the goal his dying mother set for him - discovering his destiny. For most of us, destiny is an abstraction, rather than a real force. But in Forest's mind, destiny was real, something that could be found. Perhaps that's why we cried as much as laughed throughout his journey.
        I'm still going with picaresque - it really is a loosely tied together series of events. Certainly there's a theme of destiny that's woven through it - Lieutenant Dan believes very strongly that he has a destiny, and that Forrest robbed him of his, and as you point out, his mother had a point of view on it as well.

        ETA: Just pulled up the script. Here's the ending:

        I don't know if Momma was
        right or if, if it's Lieutenant Dan.
        I don't know if we each have a
        destiny, or if we're all just floating
        around accidental-like on a breeze,
        but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe
        both is happening at the same time.
        That's why I'd go with destiny as a theme and not a goal. It's an open question, even to him, even after everything that happens.

        Again, there's just no way you wouldn't fuck up Forrest Gump if you tried to apply any template to it before you wrote it.

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        • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

          I don't know if Momma was
          right or if, if it's Lieutenant Dan.
          I don't know if we each have a
          destiny, or if we're all just floating
          around accidental-like on a breeze,
          but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe
          both is happening at the same time.
          That's why I'd go with destiny as a theme and not a goal. It's an open question, even to him, even after everything that happens.
          Indeed! I wonder if the writer had chills running down his spine after writing that.

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          • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

            Forrest Gump is a Messiah story. Forrest Gump doesn't change but the people around him do: Lt. Dan, Bubba, Jenny. In this structure the main character actually goes through no changes.

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            • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

              Messiah stories are the classic Joseph Campbell form, which I don't think Forrest Gump follows at all.

              Matrix, Star Wars & Harry Potter fits the Messianic shape - heroic figure struggling against the forces of evil, makes a huge sacrifice to save his followers/friends, is reborn and leads his people to triumph... I don't see it with Forrest.

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              • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                Again, there's just no way you wouldn't fuck up Forrest Gump if you tried to apply any template to it before you wrote it.
                This is why templates are hot to begin with. Most people (me included) know they can never pen a story as good as Forrest Gump because they don't understand how it works or even what it is. Heck, the original author may not. He wanted John Goodman to play Forrest FFS.

                So an amateur has no choice but to use a template. It's the "most probable" way to construct a good script. If you're already a pro, and asked to write a Star Trek in 6 months, the template is mandatory. You don't have time to invent some revolutionary "Gump story" no one has ever seen before. Which is why the last two ST films are so formulaic.
                I'm never wrong. Reality is just stubborn.

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                • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                  I'm a pro.

                  I have dozens of friends that are pros.

                  We're asked to write screenplays all the time in much less time than six months.

                  I've never used a template.

                  I've never heard of one of my friends doing it. I'm not saying there aren't pros that do, but I strongly believe they're in the minority.

                  I've done more than a hundred drafts for studios. I've never once had a conversation using all the terms that are thrown around in this thread. We'll talk about acts, and that's about it.

                  I just don't think it's the path to success. Honestly.

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                  • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                    I'm a pro.

                    I have dozens of friends that are pros.

                    We're asked to write screenplays all the time in much less time than six months.

                    I've never used a template.

                    I've never heard of one of my friends doing it. I'm not saying there aren't pros that do, but I strongly believe they're in the minority.

                    I've done more than a hundred drafts for studios. I've never once had a conversation using all the terms that are thrown around in this thread. We'll talk about acts, and that's about it.

                    I just don't think it's the path to success. Honestly.
                    I'm not close to the hundred draft point like Jeff, but I've done a couple of dozen and this is absolutely my experience, too. Not once have I heard any of this template or formula crap from a producer or a development exec or a director. Not once. There are discussions about acts sometimes, as Jeff said, but never this stuff. It's Story. Story. Story. And not formula story.

                    Every story cannot be shoved into one (or any) convenient formula no matter how much you want it to be that way or twist it into a pretzel to try and prove it. Creativity isn't about what goes where and why or coloring inside the lines. It's about the freedom to tell a great story your way without self-imposed emcombrances. Not easy. Not done overnight. Not done without a lot of hard work. But when you loosen the chains of the rules that in reality mean nothing and succeed in creating a great story your own way, that's what gets you noticed. Not cookie cutter, by the 15 dollar screenwriting book, scripts.

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                    • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                      "BEGINNING (NEED/WEAKNESS)
                      GOAL
                      ANTAGONIST
                      STRATEGY
                      FINALE
                      EPIPHANY
                      ENDING"

                      Most of this is completely obvious and trite and therefore useless. The parts that are true are just a tautology: "A story has to have a story to be a story."

                      A "BEGINNING" and an "ENDING"? Really? Didn't they forget "MIDDLE"?

                      More or less something has got to happen or it's not a story. I knew that when I was two and my dad first starting reading me fairy tales.

                      Except some of this isn't always true. Every story has an "EPIPHANY"? I don't think so. Not according to Webster anyway.
                      3
                      a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
                      b : a revealing scene or moment
                      Unless I've been sleeping through a hell of a lot of epiphanies, I definitely don't see them in every movie.

                      Everybody is different, so if this works for you, work it. It doesn't work for me.

                      I've seen these "Character Sheets" that you're supposed to use to "develop" your characters (even minor characters). For me those are a complete, stifling pile of crap. If I seriously tried to fill those out I'd never write anything creative.

                      Some people swear by them. Whatever floats your boat. To each his own. Do your thing and I'll do mine.

                      If filling out hundreds of pages of preliminary material and outlines results in a quality script for you -- congratulations.

                      If winging it and writing on the fly results in a quality script for you -- congratulations.

                      If doing something in between these two extremes results in a quality script for you -- congratulations.

                      Now let's just write something.
                      "I just couldn't live in a world without me."

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                      • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                        Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                        I've never used a template.

                        I've never heard of one of my friends doing it. I'm not saying there aren't pros that do, but I strongly believe they're in the minority.
                        Maybe "template" isn't the right word. As if it were a stencil placed over a blank page where you fill in the gaps. Judging from the sheer amount of HW scripts that follow it, maybe "genre-specific, generalized beat sheet" is a better term.
                        I'm never wrong. Reality is just stubborn.

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                        • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                          Originally posted by FoxHound View Post
                          This is why templates are hot to begin with. Most people (me included) know they can never pen a story as good as Forrest Gump because they don't understand how it works or even what it is. Heck, the original author may not. He wanted John Goodman to play Forrest FFS.

                          So an amateur has no choice but to use a template. It's the "most probable" way to construct a good script. If you're already a pro, and asked to write a Star Trek in 6 months, the template is mandatory. You don't have time to invent some revolutionary "Gump story" no one has ever seen before. Which is why the last two ST films are so formulaic.
                          I don't buy this. If you don't understand what a story is, templates aren't going to teach you. I know that I keep going back to this example, but I think it illustrates the point perfectly. If I'm not an artist (and I'm not) then I'm not going to learn to be an artist by coloring in paint by number pictures. If I don't have talent for painting, I simply don't have talent for painting. No template is going to teach me, even though it "kind of" looks like a picture if you look at it from far enough away.

                          Ditto for writing. If you don't have talent for it, no template or formula is going to help. This template/formula screenwriting industry is making a killing off of folks who can't write and who will never be able to write, but who produce something that LOOKS like a screenplay by following the step-by-step instructions and force fed formulas. It's a con game.

                          Now I'm not saying that a writer -- someone with talent, someone who instinctively understands what a story is, won't need to study, to practice, to learn his craft. I'm just saying that if you don't have the talent to start with you will NEVER be a successful writer -- especially not a screenplay writer (where the field is much more limited). This may not be the "PC" thing to say, but it's just the way it is.

                          I know I can never be an artist. I know I could never be a musician -- I have almost zero talent for both fields -- I even tried to do both at one point. I might have been a half-assed writer had I ever worked at it. But even if I had put in the time, I probably would have never sold a script. That's just reality, I'm not good enough. There are pros and there is everyone else, like in any artistic (or athletic) field.

                          I'm not saying this to discourage anyone. I'm just telling you that you either instinctively know what a story is, or you don't. If you have writing talent, these templates and rules are not going to help you, they're going to harm you. They're going to fill your head full of BS and limit what you to the point that you're producing total and complete trite crap. I know, I went through this. I had written some fairly decent stuff when I first started trying to write screenplays (raw, but it flowed) and then I got hold of "guru" advice and some of these template/formula horse crap rule books (no "ing" verbs, no passive verbs, no "we see," be sure to hit the right page numbers, blah, blah, blah) and guess what? My stuff turned into totally stilted crap, without any pacing, without any mood, without any reason to be read. It took a long time (a year or two) to unlearn this stupidity.

                          If you've got talent, write. Write some more, then write some more. Don't give a crap about selling your scripts until you've written several. You've got to hone your craft and you're not going to do it if you're worried about stuff completely out of your control (like, can I put this song in the script? or will this shot be too expensive?) Post snippets, or short scripts and ask for specific advice. You'll be amazed at how helpful real writers -- those who have actually sold movies -- can be. The reason they come here is try to keep you away from the formula/template crap. I'll say it one more time ... learning to fill in templates is NEVER going to make you writer. If you don't have talent nothing will make you a writer. If you DO have talent, these formulas will, AT BEST, stunt your writing growth -- but, more than likely, will destroy any chance at all that you might -- eventually -- have sold something.

                          But if you won't listen to Jeff Lowell, Neal Stevens and all the other pros who post here, why in the hell would you listen to me?

                          Sorry. Rant over.
                          STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

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                          • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?
                            • If there's no need/weakness in your story, it has no reason for existence. If one character is perfect, the story is driven by at least one other character's need/weakness.
                            • If there's no goal, the scenes won't connect to each other.
                            • If there are no antagonists, there's no conflict.
                            • If there's no strategy, the characters won't do anything, just stand around waiting.
                            • If there's no finale, we won't know whether the main character reached his goal or not.
                            • If there's no epiphany, that's the point of the story.
                            • If there's no ending (Happy, Bittersweet, Uplifting, Downer), we won't know whether the main character overcame his weakness and fulfilled his need or not.


                            It's not a template, it's the pattern of story, whether you know it consciously or subconsciously. It can be simple or complex, depending on the story. Stories will always be about characters and have two tracks, the inner and the outer "journey" (need/weakness and goal), the character arc and the story arc.

                            Forrest Gump is obviously one of the more complex stories, because the writer is telling a story that his character is telling within the story.
                            Last edited by Yaso; 11-16-2015, 02:53 AM.

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                            • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                              I think the point that is not being stated here is that at some point any principles or theory you have learned goes away and the process is a lot less technical and a lot more inspirational/creative.

                              The problem is that a vast majority of the active posters are not ready by any means to let the so called rules go. They don't know them well enough and don't have the execution experience of them. And they shouldn't at this point.

                              It's like love making, what ever positions or locations in end up in is not technical at all, it just flows and happens naturally.

                              On a side note, while Messianic stories often do have a central character of some divinity, or a central character with some kind of special power, I still feel Forrest Gump has a lot of characteristics of one and his slowness was his special power that's the irony of it that makes it a such an incredible story.

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                              • Re: How can screenwriters control pace? Any thoughts on unintentional slowness?

                                While I was ragging on all the analogies in this thread Cyfress' post is pretty spot on.

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