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I Need My Death Star!

  • So, for those of you who read me (that's only a little creepy.  ESP'ers, stay the hell away from me!  I don't need you in my dirty thoughts!), you know that I am involved with the [link="http://tallgrassfilmfest.com/"]Tallgrass Film Festival[/link] and the [link="http://www.myspace.com/wichitamotionpicturearts"]Wichita Association for the Motion Picture Arts[/link], also affectionately known as that other Lucasian creature from The Empire Strikes Back, the W.A.M.P.A.

    In my time with WAMPA, I have taught three courses in writing for the screen.  I rely heavily on texts from [link="http://tomlazarus.com/"]Tom Lazarus - Screenwriting God[/link], [link="http://www.keepwriting.com/"]David Trottier[/link], and [link="http://www.mckeestory.com/"]Robert McKee - God of all that is Storytelling[/link].  In addition, I have come up with my own ideas on structure, how to mix three-act structure with rising action structure, character development, dialogue, and all those little bitty things that go into writing an award-winning script.  Sometimes, however, even those of us who help teach others sometimes forget to practice what we preach.

    When I first start talking about how to structure a screenplay, I tell my students that they are writing a story about a character, not a movie about an idea.  If you want the latter, go make mediocre documentaries -- because the GREAT documentaries create a story as well.  It's just that with great docs, the writing is in the editing bay, not in Final Draft software.  Anyway, I digress...

    We're talking about stories and characters here...  I always tell my students that your protagonist has a goal and a need.  A goal is something that they work toward and will result in tangible consequences -- Indiana Jones wants to get the Ark of the Covenant away from the Nazis, Sam Rothstein wants to make the Tanjiers the best casino on the strip, Rick wants to win Ilsa back.  But those characters also have needs, which are changes in character traits, not tangible -- Indiana Jones needs to learn that the Ark of the Covenant is not just the prize, an artifact for his museum, but is the seat of God's power on earth; Sam Rothstein needs to loosen up and enjoy his work.  Rick has two needs - he needs to let go of Ilsa because she loves her husband.  But he also needs to join sides in the war effort, because those who sit on the sidelines will end up the ultimate losers.

    So, that's one of the things I talk about on the first night of class protagonists have needs and they have goals.  I prefer to write scripts where the protagonist's goal is completely antithetical to their need.  Given this, you can surmise that I typically write for anti-heroes, and the climax almost always involves some sort of sacrifice -- if they choose their goal, they lose their morality and become greater tragic figures.  If they choose their need, they give up their goal and become more heroic.  That's just the way I enjoy writing.

    I've been working on this idea for about three years now.  It is akin to The Hills meets Casino with a fair amount of Traffic thrown in, just for flavor.  I know, this sounds ridiculous.  But the story and characters are solid, and if you liked Traffic, Crash, or pretty much anything by Scorcese (not that I'm comparing myself to Scorcese by any means.  Just that if you like his movies, you'd like this movie), you would probably enjoy this movie.  I have my character bios all done, an extremely detailed and extensive scene list, a couple of great subplots, and it all seems to fit together.  But, for about nine months now, I've had the most severe case of writers' block EVER, and I couldn't figure out what was wrong.  Something was keeping me from sitting down and just writing the script.

    Then, it hit me.  My story starts off with a bet.  But, the bet is completed in the first 25 pages of the movie.  What now?  A character-driven plot at this point would just be a let-down because I've created some great action and an objective-based plotline.  I need my Death Star!

    Yeah.  At this point you're saying, "Tyler, you're a nutcase, a whack job, a total looney.  You need a Death Star?  Sounds like you need a heavy dose of reality."  What I mean is that I need the global goal.  In Star Wars, Luke's goal at the beginning is to rescue Princess Leia from the Death Star and Darth Vader.  But once they get her off the Death Star, the movie would essentially be over if that was his goal.  That was Luke's personal goal.  His global goal became the destruction of the Death Star.  Halfway through the movie, LUKE'S GOAL CHANGED COMPLETELY!  It was an extension of the first goal.  The Death Star became Luke's new goal.

    And that is what I am looking for.  I need my Death Star.  I have my Leia.  I just need my Death Star.  And two proton torpedoes to take it out...in the Mexicali desert...

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