Frustrated Intention – the bedfellow of Drama?

November 11, 2021
Bob Eckhard

Okay, so where are we with the scene template?

So far we have looked at INT/EXT which is the balance of interior and exterior scenes throughout the screenplay.

Then we focused on ensuring the protagonist featured in the majority of these scenes because – after all – it is their story.

Next, we considered how there should be a ‘see-saw’ effect between the emotional highs and lows from one scene to the next.

Before considering how every scene should provide the opportunity for  ‘Conflict’ or –  at the very least –  the ‘promise of conflict’ in the screenplay.

In this post, we will consider the knotty aspect of the hero’s INTENTION in the scene – or put another way: what does the protagonist want to happen?

And can I say here that frustrated INTENTION is the bedfellow of DRAMA. Imagine the following scenario:-

 

The hero attempts to rescue her boyfriend (INT) from the kidnappers only to discover they left their lair in a car a few minutes before she arrived  – DRAMA! (Will she find him?)

Later, she spots the car and waits for the men to exit to see where they go (INT) but then loses kidnappers (and boyfriend) in traffic – DRAMA! (Is he lost forever?).

She returns to search the kidnapper’s lair with the intention of talking to the aggressive bouncer (INT) who threatens her to leave or face consequences – DRAMA (she’s in danger?)

Unaware that she is a black belt in karate, the bouncer attacks her and is beaten to a pulp. Torturing him, he tells her where the gang have gone – (DRAMA – her search is back on!)

(and so on…)

 

Q) What does this mean in practice?

A) Make sure the HERO’S INTENTION is continually FRUSTRATED. What she wants, she seldom gets because her proactive approach results in conflict that sends either her running or the antagonist.

It will be a very short story if the hero arrests the kidnappers in the first minute and takes him/her to jail. So make sure your protagonist is FRUSTRATED in their quest throughout the story – sometimes winning, other times losing.

Til next time….write in ways that will frustrate your protagonist and not the audience!

Conflict and the promise of

November 2, 2021
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Okay, having tackled the need for

  • a balance in interior and exterior scenes throughout the screenplay
  • the protagonist to feature in the majority of the scenes because it’s their story (and)
  • crafting scenes so that there is a ‘see-saw’ effect between the emotional highs and lows from one to the next

…we turn our attention to this week’s post about how every scene should provide the opportunity for  ‘Conflict’ or –  at the very least –  the promise of conflict in your screenplay.’

What do I mean?

Well, all screenplays have differing degrees of conflict within them – sometimes the conflict is obvious as in the action feature ‘Die Hard’ where policeman John McLean single- handedly takes on Hans Gruber and his team of terrorists who have hijacked building and staff in an audacious attempt to rob the company of its financial assets.

Now, while a lot of the scenes are filled with conflict and action as McLean tries to break out then takes on the terrorists, there are other scenes where he is reflective. In one scene, McLean takes refuge in a washroom to nurse his wounds. In there he talks by phone with the police officer stationed outside the building and asks him that should he die, could he find his wife Holly and tell her he loved her. Promise made, the officer updates McLean on an ill-thought out plan hatched by the inexperienced officer-in-charge who intends to storm the building with the likely result that all the hostages will be killed or injured.

Okay, the promise of conflict is seen in that

  1. McLean is wounded and on the run
  2. He’s pretty sure he won’t make it out alive
  3. He’s just been informed that the police are preparing to storm the building with the result that the terrorists will kill hostages of which his wife might be one of them.

The scene is in a washroom yet by the end of it our senses are heightened by the new predicament facing John McLean who must continue on or risk his wife being killed.

And the same is true for dramas such as Dangerous Liaisons where John Malkowich as Vicomte de Valmont finds himself in an impossible situation as he attempts to seduce one woman in order to secure another. In this, the threat of blackmail, seduction, honour, death, revenge and jealousy are played out in the civil and gentile world of aristocracy. Yes, conflict and tragedy will result by the end but in-between, the audience will watch as dalliances, secret love letters, manipulation and seduction between those in the love triangle  will build towards a crescendo in a way which promises drama and conflict right up to the end.

In summary – with the exception of transitional settings – conflict (or the promise of it) should find itself in every scene.  If it is not, the story will be boring. Indeed, as seen, even action thrillers Die Hard required moments to breathe and reflect in order to reset and go again. Til next time – think conflict when you write your scenes!

ps find a breakdown of the scene template by clicking here

pls The individualised scene templates explanations can be found by scrolling back from this week’s post,

 

Understanding the ‘to’ and ‘fro’ of emotional polarity…

October 27, 2021
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Okay, following on from last week’s post on the importance of planning your screenplay so that 90% of the scenes centre around the protagonist,  this week we look at the ‘to and fro’ of emotional polarity. Or put another way –

Is the hero down in the dumps (-) or contemplating giving up  (–)? Or emotionally satisfied with the outcome so far (+) or ecstatic that the case is about to be blown wide open (++) ?

The key to understanding the necessity of change within the character is to imagine the hero Bill astride an emotional ‘see-saw.’ Initially,  hero Bill starts off emotionally content (+)  as everything is better than fine.

He collects post from outdoor mail box and discovers he has won US$ 400 on the lottery (++). As he walks inside, something glints in shrubbery and he finds his wife’s necklace  – presumed lost but now found (+++)

Wow! Can this day get any better?

Inside, a neighbour phones Bill to say a bank robbery is in progress in town. Bill’s emotions change to (+)  as he knows the staff. It’s bad news but it does not affect him directly as wife Pam is on her way home.

Curious, Bill  turns on the TV and sees helicopter film of Pam’s parked car with doors open and bank robbers dragging a woman across the street at gunpoint. Fearful it’s Pam, Bill’s emotions renders him negatively (–)

However, a few seconds later Bill heaves a huge sigh of relief as he learns the person being held hostage is senator Lexi Matthews (-) . What a relief! It’s not his wife but a senator he voted in and whose policies he likes (-)

Returning to room with cup of tea, Bill learn that one of the hostages inside the  bank is brother-in-law Arnold. (–) Then learns that wife and twin Sister Ana is with him (—). It’s terrible news! And so on…and so on…

So what do we draw from this?

In short, as well as planning the storyline of the screenplay, we need to be aware and monitor the emotional through-line that our hero will encounter as the Highs (+) and Lows (–) impact him/her/them. The writer’s task is to ensure that the script (and by extension, film) keeps the audience on their toes by taking them through a gamut or emotions as they follow the hero’s journey and vicariously live his or her life engaging and manipulated by incidents and the good and bad emotions they bring.

Translating this into the hero’s story, for each scene (unless it is a transition between scenes) someone – usually the protagonist – should be on an emotional rollercoaster which only stops with the story’s resolution as a ‘new’ order is restored when bank robbers are caught and life returns to normal as hostages are released- or maybe not (perhaps).

(NB remember, you need to resolve the story mentally, physically, emotionally for the person whose story we have followed – otherwise it will be a disappointing and confused ending to reader/audience.

Til next time, all the best!

 

 

Whose scene is it?

October 20, 2021
Bob Eckhard

 

Hi all,

Okay, following on from last week’s post on the importance of planning screenplay scenes in ways in which EXTERIOR and INTERIORS feature to ensure it is cinematic, this week we turn our attention to the question…

Whose scene is it anyway?

Now, while that question might seem a bit hard to answer with so many characters in a screenplay, the answer is surprisingly simple in that the majority (say 90% approximately) of your scenes should focus on and/or impact your protagonist in some way. After all, it is his or her story. He or she is the person we are following who has experienced an event that has set them on a journey of discovery where obstacles will present themselves to challenge them mentally, physically, emotionally , etc. Usually in ways that will not be resolved until the final showdown with their nemesis (whoever that is, human or otherwise).

Above is the photo of my planning for a feature (this is the 2nd or two boards).

Now, I did a breakdown of its 115 scenes and found 95 scenes were to do with the protagonist (aka ‘hero’) with the remaining scenes devoted to the antagonist (10) and other ‘tent pole’ scenes involving the funeral of the protagonist’s father, wive’s illness and death, etc (10) – but even these are a set up to impact the protagonist emotionally. Bottom line, if it affects the protagonist, it is his scene.

Message for today – check the structure of your screenplay – if your protagonist is not in the majority of the scenes you haven’t got a screenplay (unless of course you are writing an ensemble piece.)

All the best! You can find my template by clicking here and ALWAYS remember that the majority of your scenes should be focused on the protagonist.

The antagonist will have (several scenes) dedicated to him/her/ them/it with other characters  (a few scenes). It is the hero we are following and interested about – Remember, even ‘B’ stories should affect the protagonist such as when a daughter resolves her issues with her mother and the father (protagonist) is affected by it.

Til next time, go back through your screenplay – if your answer to the question ‘whose scene is it?’ does not bring about a hearty shout of ‘hero’ in nine out of ten your scenes, then something needs addressing.

All the best!

 

The Lesser Known Leap Frog of Interior and Exterior

October 13, 2021
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Okay, following on from the advice given in the post (before last) about structuring and checking your work for mistakes, we begin today with my  ‘101 Basics’ on the use of INT/EXT in your setting directions – if you haven’t read it you can find that post by clicking here.

Early on in our screenwriting, we learn that before we start any scene, it must be identified as being either INTERIOR or EXTERIOR.

This is denoted on the scene line as ‘INT’ (INTERIOR) or ‘EXT’ (EXTERIOR) and occasionally  ‘I/E’ where the scene occurs in a setting or place that may at times be both INSIDE and OUTSIDE. Possibly a discussion  between two people with one stood on the doorstep and the other in the HALLWAY talking through an open (or even closed) door.

Often, such scenes are denoted as something along the lines of I/E. ENTRANCE. JOHN’S HOUSE – DAY

However,  reading a number of scripts as part of a lab at a festival just recently, I was amazed to find that half the scripts had been plotted such that each INTERIOR SCENE followed another INTERIOR SCENE for six scenes. Feeding back to the writer, I explained that what he’d written was more akin to a theatre production than a screenplay? Why?

Because it was not cinematic. All of it was set indoors and could have been filmed on a stage set or performed in a theatre to a live audience. Moreover, there was no exterior scene to help the viewer to get a sense of place and context for the scenes such as:

EXT. SQUARE – NIGHT

Bob races across the road and through the door into:

INT. PUB – NIGHT

…where friend Charles spins around with a pint in his hand.

Now, while I’m not advocating that at the end of our script we should have the same number of INT and EXT scenes, I will say that if you have one interior scene running into another ad nauseam  (and it’s not a story of miners trapped underground) then something is wrong in your planning. (Actually, trapped miners would still have rescuers above them and the chance for EXT scenes to stop it being too claustrophobic a piece.)

Not only do INTERIOR and EXTERIOR scenes aid the reader/viewer as to place and context, they assist in helping them to realise the passage of time between one scene and the next. They also make it CINEMATIC!!!!

Okay, enough. Make sure INTERIOR and EXTERIOR SCENES are well thought out. All the best!

London Screenwriter Festival

October 5, 2021
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Sorry to be off blog recently but I’ve have been rather busy with the London Screenwriter Festival which is still on at the moment – the online section that is which runs through October with sessions being recorded and available for delegates for the rest of the year.

Now, while I couldn’t attend the physical opening of the weekend up at Regent’s Park (as I needed to isolate for work the next day) online LSF has resulted in great teaching from excellent practitioners far and wide – some recorded, others live – which can be viewed from the comfort (and safety) of your home.

While the sessions I listened to were great, the  most memorable and useful to me (so far) was Pilar Alessandra’s live zoom seminar on ‘writing voice’ given from the West Coast of America. Okay, think about it – given the stark ecological disaster the world is facing from global warming – do we need to fly a practitioner into the UK to give a seminar when we can watch her live online and even rewatch or catch up with the bits we missed when writing notes. Moreover, do UK based producers and directors need to travel miles from where they live to attend a conference in London or sit in a room with 30 talkative delegates with all the air-born risk that covid poses at this current time?

For me, online pitching is the future! For the first time in forever, I had relaxed meetings in a non-frenetic environment with producers, directors, filmmakers who listened to my pitch (from their home or office) and offered advice or requested I email my scripts,  treatment or ideas . At least one of them resulted in a zoom meeting and a request for me to view their production slate and pitch something appropriate.

In short, the pitch festival went from ruck and maul to a relaxed meeting with others who were not exhausted by being in a claustrophobic room at Regent’s Park with delegates – who had been queuing for ages – splurging out their well rehearsed logline and beats.

As a writer determined to get projects written and out there – through creating, planning, writing, editing, producing myself (where and when necessary) I cannot emphasise The London Screenwriter Festival strongly enough. Setting aside the fact that remote attendance has undoubtedly reduced the risk of covid and CO2 (by cutting emissions from less travel)  it has also opened the door to civilised pitching of the kind that could in no way be sustained in a room with 30 people queuing to speak to ten industry execs with a clock ticking. It also means, anyone, anywhere in the world can attend it.

Til next time – keep writing and developing, stay safe and consider your global footprint and health.

 

 

The importance of scene structure

August 5, 2021
Bob Eckhard

 

Hi all,

Sorry to be off blog just recently but I’ve been rewriting a feature that I planned out and wrote several years ago but it required an overhaul of its shape and structure. My problem being that it’s an epic biopic from the 19th C with interesting characters and charting several countries (Switzerland, France, Germany, Great Britain, America). Add to that relational dramas, crisis, conflict, death, glaciers and a mammoth – yes, you read that correctly – and it makes for a structural nightmare. So much so that I put it in my bottom drawer a few years ago as finding the right structure for it was doing my head in!

Anyway, it’s now nearing completion but one of the things that has helped me in reworking this project has been moving away from three act structure to tell multiple storylines from different times periods in an interconnected way – oooh. By that I mean hoping back and forth from present to past then into the future,  interspersed occasionally with a series of dream sequences. Sounds offbeat? Maybe it is – and the author as well! (Talking about myself in the third person would certainly suggest I am losing it!)

Now, what I found really helpful was a scene grid that I had developed using notes from a Luke Ryan session at London Screenwriter’s Festival a few years ago which you can download by clicking here. The above pic is the second of two planning boards in which 30+ scenes have been analysed to ensure the structure works.

Okay, you can download the grid template (in Word Doc) by clicking here

SCENE___              (insert scene number in space)

INT/EXT ?               Good scripts will be plotted so that EXT and INT scenes follow one another (if only as establishing shot)

Whose scene is it? Hero, Antagonist, Trickster, Mentor

S/he wants?          What is their objective in this scene? eg. lure hero away?

Achieved?             Is s/he/they successful in doing this?

Conflict Y/N.       If there is none and its not a transition short you need to rewrite scene of delete

Transition/show stopper/dramatic. Make sure there are  4 to 5 show stopper moments

Get what s/he wants? – Does the person (whose scene it is) get what s/he set out to achieve?

Scene is +ive/-ive – Does the character (whose scene it is) find success or are they thwarted?

Visceral/vicarious – does audience know or not know stuff as it happens – it affects emotions experienced

Story emotion is        -(highlight all emotions audience will experience in the scene)

  1. Interest
  2. Tension
  3. Curiosity
  4. Surprise
  5. Anticipation
  6. Humour
  7. Cliff hanger
  8. Regret
  9. Elation
  10. …………………….  (space to add those not shown but relevant for that scene)
  11. ……………………

What is the value of a produced script?

June 3, 2021
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Following on from our series on the value of getting things produced, I thought it would be good to consider its benefit in the long-term scheme of things.

As some of you will know, back in 2019 I wrote, directed and produced a comedy farce and a dark dystopian drama. They both  played at a west London theatre for four weeks.

One of the reasons for doing this was

  1. a  belief in the script that  I had written and a sense it deserved to be on the stage
  2. a refusal to allow script/production gatekeepers to determine what does and doesn’t get made.

Now, while as a newbie I imagined a stage writing credit would be a great addition to my cv, I never thought it would open as many doors as it did – to date, my script has been requested by a film director and TV producer. It has also been influential in  an animation company contacting me (through LinkedIn) to provide a writing sample for their (then) biographical cartoon idea. Of the three, all have offered me writing projects and -as a result – I followed up on two of them.

In addition, the two stage writing credits facilitated my recent application to BBC Drama Writers initiative (back in July 20) – you needed two to enter. Now, although that opportunity didn’t provide me with a win, it was good to know I was entered in something where I stood a much better chance. That said,  I did  recently do okay in a BBC Writersroom window which has got me wondering

‘ Does  taking production into your own hands initiate a sense of confidence and belief that gives us courage and a front foot approach when engaging with projects?’ 

Q) So what is the value of a produced script?

A) Well, it shows people you are a safe pair of hands – that you have production experience – and you can be trusted to get it written/made/whatever

Q) And the takeaway?

A) Don’t wait for that elusive competition win to come calling – if you wait it may never happen. Instead, become a winner and produce yourself.

Bottom line is that just like your writing/creative ventures, your future is in your own hands – not the gatekeepers! So start to make this happen for yourself today!

Til next week

Bob

Why producing your own script may be good for health and well-being? (part 4)

May 20, 2021
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Today I’d like to explore how the creative decision to produce can have a positive affect on health and well-being.

Unlike occupations in which the outcome of our labour and hard graft is instantaneous in that we receive a wage/salary, this unfortunately is not the experience for the majority of  writers. While the teacher will be paid for helping the children in class, staff in a store will be complimented by the grateful customer, the lecturer will take a bow at the end of an insightful seminar and the taxi driver who takes him/her home will be paid and (hopefully) receive a generous tip, most writers do not experience these positive encouragements.

Indeed, while many occupations in the world result in gratitude, encouragement and acclamation, the majority of writers do not experience this, not because their work is undeserving but because it is yet unseen – and here we touch upon the world of gatekeepers and the writer’s quest to find a way around them so that their script can be placed in front of the person who can make it into a film, novel, television series, play, etc.

Sadly, the majority of writers discover too late that becoming a produced writer is far harder than they imagined. So what’s the answer?

Produce yourself!

Write a play and set about putting it on at a theatre! Gather creatives around you and make a short film! Buy the Stop-motion app to create an animation film by manipulating plastercine models, filming it on your mobile phone, etc…The opportunities are endless  but in actuality, what is really needed is:

a changed mindset that breaks out of the cycle of continuous writing of stories (that will not be made) into producing your own work.

In short, a change in thinking that determines to sidestep the gatekeeper by taking it from the page and placing it in front of a live audience – be that theatre, web or screen or whatever. Only as we do this and others gain access to our work will our potential be realised. Moreover, we will become more fulfilled, positive and confident in our writing ability as it brings other opportunities our way.

Until next week…

 

 

Why producing your own script might be the best thing yet! (part 2)

May 4, 2021
Bob Eckhard

 

(pic of actors Laura England and Tom Cove who acted/recorded my audio production last year)

Hi all,

Following on from last week’s post about the seminar I attended  at the Soho Theatre in which the speaker admitted that scripts sent to BBC Writersroom seldom end up being made into TV, let me turn to the positives that came out of the session. If you haven’t read last week’s post, you can find it here.

Notes on the ‘Perfect Ten’ rules from that session can be downloaded  here

Okay, back to the main thing taken way from that seminar which was to do with why many playwrights make an easy transition into writing for TV and radio series.

The reason? They have a ‘head start’ on those who aren’t playwrights because they possess the skills necessary for writing TV drama as they are versed and honed in:

  • writing for a medium that is dialogue-driven
  • creating well-crafted characters with flaws and disparate personalities that will be exposed on stage before a live audience
  • working in a way to manage tense conflict within small set/locations
  • developing interesting storylines that keep an audience hooked while facilitating a slow-burn on the reveal
  • not giving too much away while keeping tension and suspense
  • writing in ways that are not overtly elaborate or exhaustative on budgets for actors/locations……and dare I say it…
  • tried, tested and approved by theatre audiences long before the writer takes that step into TV writing.

Which brings us to the question of production and how the writer understands this. For most writers, the ‘term’ production is understood as ‘getting your written work made into a film, play, TV series, film, audio piece (etc).

Now, while that is true – and I would encourage all writers to be production minded in regard to all of their projects – I do think there is a different understanding of producing which we need to be aware of – I refer of course to our rate of productivity.

If it takes a writer five years to write a play, TV pilot, screenplay or whatever, then it better be amazing because no TV producer, Theatre Company or Film Studio will wait the same amount of time for the follow up project. And what if the theme of your play or premise does not ‘fit’ with the current milieu?  Do you have other projects to pitch  if they don’t like what you bring on the day?

[Moral of the story – you cannot bring one piece of work to the meeting. Come with four scripts (at least) that you can pitch and three ideas for other projects you hope to develop and be prepared too elaborate on there and then.]

Look at the CVs of most playwrights who became writers and you will see they were writing plays long before the opportunity to move into TV happened – Moira Buffini is one who immediately springs to mind.

And a number of them will point back to one of their plays garnering interest from someone who saw the potential for them as a writer in other mediums/formats. Moral of the story – take a step sideways to move forward? Unless of course you love theatre and want to write solely for that medium in which case keep on, keeping on! Til next time, when we will revisit the reason ‘why producing your own work may be good for your health and well-being.’

Be productive!