Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Juicy Scenes & Pacing

From 2008....

More Answers to past questions. These three were related, so I'm answering them all in the same entry...

QUESTION: Any, er tricks, to build up suspense? Is there a rule of thumb to balance the frequency of the comic relief of the approach of an ominous shadow that turns out to be a kitty with the slightly less frequent surprise slice that reduces the band of kids by one nasty jock in that uniquely gruesome method and, oh by the way, is there anyplace in a screenplay for run on sentences as I seem to have a problem with that too.

ANSWER: I hate those people who say “for the answer to that question, read my book!” There are these guys who teach classes at Expo who are basically there just to pimp their classes or books... But there are two huge chapters in the (still out of print) action book, and one entire CD of the thriller set is all about suspense... way too much information for a quick answer here.

Suspense is the anticipation of an action - so we need to know what the action is, then use one of many techniques to stretch out the anticipation of that event... without allowing the audience to forget the event.

Horror also uses dread (covered on the horror CD) which is the anticipation of an unspecific event. We know that there is a killer outside, but don’t know which door or window they will attack through... and now you stretch out the anticipation without allowing the audience to forget the killer or monster or ghost or whatever.

This is done on the page - a suspense script needs the suspense to work for the reader, a horror script needs the fear to work for the reader. We are trying to use our writing to create the emotions. Not *tell* people what the emotions are, but write a scene or sequence that is filled with those emotions.

Some suspense and dread is situational - we create the situation. Other times we use writing techniques to build the suspense or dread. Often we use both.

As for run on sentences - um, maybe in dialogue if that fits the character? Otherwise, you need to edit. Run on sentences usually make it look like you don’t really know where you are going... they look weak. You want to look strong.

QUESTION: How to increase the tension and how to adjust the pacing properly?

ANSWER: I have a script tip on pacing - it’s the heartbeat of your screenplay. You want to have a regular heartbeat - usually a “juice scene” within every ten pages or so... and more frequently in act 3.

The number of heart beats in your script is critical to your story's survival. It's impossible to have a regular heart beat in your story if you only have four heart beats in 110 pages. That heart is beating so slow the patient is either comatose or dead. The main reason why scripts re slow paced is that not enough exciting stuff is happening. You're going to need about one exciting scene about every ten pages - really funny scenes in a comedy, suspense scenes in a thriller, big dramatic scenes in a drama, action scenes in an action flick. Whatever the “juice” of that particular genre is.

Your heart rests between beats, which is why films that are all exciting scenes with nothing in between seem to burn out. Too much of a good thing. A script needs balance. Peaks and valleys. If your script is always exciting, we'll become used to the excitement and it will become expected... and boring. When car chases and shoot outs become boring, you're in real trouble!

All heart beat is as much a problem as no heart beat at all. But here’s what I learned from watching *Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein* - one genre’s valley is another genre’s peak. By combining two genres - horror and comedy - *Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein* is twice as exciting with no heart beat burn out. The valleys in horror are peaks in comedy. When you aren’t screaming, you’re laughing. The comedy makes the horror twice as scary, and the horror makes the comedy twice as funny. So don’t think of your valleys as “dull parts” or “slow spots”, think of them as exciting parts in another genre. Your thriller may use the valleys as peaks in the dramatic story. Your comedy valleys may be romantic peaks. Every page of your script should be exciting... you don’t to give the audience any time to race to the bathroom. Bust those bladders!

QUESTION: How to get the most 'juice' out of the scenes as you're fond of say?

ANSWER: First, know what juice you want. The juice is the emotions in the scene - and the emotions you want the audience to feel. The scene is going to transfer the emotions to the audience... and we’re going to start with the person the reads our script. We want them to feel something, not just read the script like it’s a work assignment or a report.

Second, we want to create the situation that best produces those emotions. In FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL the lead character, Pete, has broken up with his long time love Sarah. He decides to go away, to a Hawaii resort, to ret and forget her... except that’s where she and her new boyfriend are staying. The other thing about Sarah is that she’s the star of a hot TV show, so Pete can’t turn on TV without seeing her - he can’t escape her!

This is a “cringe comedy” where the humor comes from embarrassing and awkward situations.

So we have a scene in Hawaii where we’re going to milk humor *and* emotions from Pete feeling lonely. He goes to a restaurant at the resort alone, and the host ask “Table for two?” When Pete says no, the host continues - No wife? No girlfriend? No business associates? No buddies? This milks the situation for the most juice... and it keeps going! The host asks if he’d like a magazine or newspaper, because just sitting alone is going to be boring. Once he sits alone at his table, a big deal is made of taking away the other place setting.

Now he’s alone at a table... but not in any restaurant, this is Hawaii. So Pete is surrounded by couples on honeymoon who are all over each other, and guys who have brought their girlfriends so that they can pop the question - and lonely Pete is surrounded by newlyweds and happy couples getting engaged. This also milks the situation to create more humor - each one of these things increases the juice or a juicy situation.

Then, to top it off, Sarah and her new boyfriend enter the restaurant and are seated at the table that Pete’s table overlooks - so he has to watch them while he eats. So we begin with a situation designed to create the kind of cringe comedy that is the juice for this film, then - to keep it juicy - small things within the scene *keep happening* - and escalating until we reach the breaking point.

Okay, that’s a cringe comedy example - but imagine the scene has our lead characters stuck in a house surrounded by zombies, or chased by a serial killer through an abandoned slaughterhouse, or the hero trying to escape the police by walking along a narrow ledge. Those are the basic situations, then we need to find a bunch of things to keep it juicy - things within that scene to keep the situation escalating.

And these things need to be on the page - we need to write them in such a way that the reader *feels* the emotions while they read it. Our job is to use words to create emotions in the reader... and eventually the audience.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:


See You At Fango! - I'll be at the Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors at the LA Convention Center this weekend, if you see me walking down the halls, say hello!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Scene Of The Week: THE THIRD MAN

The scene of the week is a nice bit of threatening dialogue from THE THIRD MAN, and a reunion between two old friends Holly (Joeseph Cotton) and Harry (Orson Welles)... after one of their funerals. The great thing about this conversation is how charming and fun Harry makes his threats and his justifications for criminal activities. He's a bad guy you just want to hang out with.


The British Film Institute selected THE THIRD MAN as the Best British Film Ever Made - and it's hard to argue with that. It does a million things right, it has one iconic scene after another, some amazing lines (this scene doesn't have the film's best lines!) and is a great thriller with a huge action-chase set piece at the end which has been lifted in dozens of other films. If you haven't seen it - check it out. Actually filmed in the rubble of Post WW2 Vienna!

This is one of my favorite films - and I can watch it again and again. The characters, scenes, and story are all great. The story has a really messy and messed up romance - can you fall in love with your dead best friend's girlfriend and not have it be just a little awkward? I also love the humor in the film - like all great thrillers it straddles absurdity. The yappy little dog. Saved by a speech on cowboy literature. The misplaced slide in the slide show. It's a great example of how to balance a film.

Comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

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