Wednesday, March 30, 2022

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

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, March 23, 2022

Bill's BBC Writer's Room Interview

From Literally Over A Dozen Years Ago!

The Interview

Years ago when I was in London to teach my big 2 day class and attend the Raindance Film Festival, I did a million interviews in two days. I was on morning radio (breakfast chat) and afternoon radio. I did all kinds of radio in between. Every newspaper interviewed me. I did a couple of strange shows at the BBC where I was in a studio talking to someone who was on the other side of the country... and it was broadcast live. I did one great show - kind of a zany drive show, hosted by a couple of writers who wanted to know every story I would never tell in print... and I told a couple.

And BBC's Writer's Room wanted to interview me. After racing all over town in a million taxi cabs, they called and rescheduled... for the morning at some hotel. I don't do mornings. And I still had jet lag. I get to the hotel - barely awake, and they seat me on the lobby steps and begin asking questions... as hotel guests come down the stairs. Every minute we had to stop for guests! I finish this lengthy interview, and have no idea how it turned out. They run it, and post it on their website:

One of the focuses on this interview is Writing For Production - being aware of schedule and budget and all of the other elements that you will need to know if you also plan on making your own film. Or just selling it to a low budget production company.


Along with interviews from Paul Greengrass and David Benioff and many other folks you have heard of, and I kind of forget about it. Until a website regular discovered it, and e-mailed me a version and put a copy up on YouTube. I decided to add titles and put it up on My YouTube... and here it is.

As I said, I talk a lot about writing for a budget, which I don't think Greengrass or Benioff cover in their interviews. This is the kind of information that is important when you are breaking in, because you probably won't be writing a big blockbuster like THE DARK KNIGHT or IRON MAN... you may be writing a Made For TV movie or an Indie film or a low budget action or horror flick or even making your own movie, where budget matters.

Thanks to the Raindance Film Festival for setting all of these interviews up for me!

- Bill

Hey, this is topical...



Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
Writing A Low Budget Genre Script To Sell?
Writing A Made For TV Holiday Movie?

You will be writing for BUDGET. On a standard spec screenplay, you don’t have to think about budget, but these types of screenplays writing with budget in mind is critical!

If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.

SALE: $7.99!

The rest of that entry from 12 years ago...


Yesterday’s Dinner: Fresh tomato beef at City Wok in Studio City.

MOVIES: CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR - So I drove down to Long Beach to hang out with my friends Melanie and Yamo and grabs some dinner and see a movie. As dinner winds down, Mel pulls out a list of all the movies playing at the 95-plex next to the restaurant, and I look over the list and have seen many of the films and Mel or Yamo have seen others... and we narrow it down to a handful, of which CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is the best as far as time goes... so that’s what we see.

Okay, you have an all-star cast, and Mike Nichols directing, and Aaron Sorkin writing, so you can’t end up with a bad movie.

Tom Hanks plays this charmingly sleazy congressman, Charlie Wilson, who is sitting in a Vegas hot tub with a couple of strippers and a Playboy centerfold when he sees Dan Rather on TV wearing a turban. A turban! He wants to know what that’s all about. Discovers that the Russians have invaded Afghanistan, and the Afghans are fighting back... but they need weapons. And Charlie sees a way to make his mark.

He teams up with a grumbling CIA agent named Gust, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a wealthy right wing Texan played by Julia Roberts. Since Roberts just popped twins and is getting older, her character *must* wear a bikini in one scene.

This movie is all over the place - and nowhere at the same time. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts seem to be in some over the top farce, Hoffman manages to play his character with a foot in reality... yet still be at home in the farce scenes. But the danged thing just isn’t funny. You get all the funny lines in the trailer - both of them. It’s kind of breezy for the most part, and the people are fun to watch... but they left the jokes out. And the thing about this true story is that it’s wacky. It plays as farce better than it plays as reality. Oh, then they throw in a real horror of war scene with *children missing limbs* in an Afghan refugee camp. Nothing farcical about that! The TONE is all over the place, and the film never seems to decide if it’s a comedy or a drama or a farce or a... heck, it could be anything. But ends up kind of being nothing. Light but not funny.

And it’s hard to shake the real-life punchline: the Afghans we armed to fight the Russians became the Taliban. Those guys we were showing as heroes in RAMBO 3 and that James Bond movie became the guys who took down the Twin Towers. That’s not in the movie, but maybe it should have been. Maybe they should have left out the maimed kids and made the film into a laugh out loud comedy... with the shocker end. People would have loved it... then hated it. But they would have *felt something*. Instead we get an all star, beautifully made, kind of ho-hum film.

- Bill

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Tofu Steak Tartar

Flashback To July 2007...


I was going to do an entry about standing in line at the DMV, but what the hell could I say about that experience that would be original?

Then, Lindsay Lohan was arrested this morning for drunk driving again... and I was shocked. Didn’t she just get out of rehab about a week ago? How could she possible be driving drunk already? She had on some sort of ankle alcohol monitor - she displayed it for the paparazzi before entering some night club. How could she drink with that thing on?

In Hollywood, everyone goes into rehab. It’s almost a Get Out Of Jail Free Card - if you go on the Tonight Show and admit you screwed up but are getting help, and with the help of your family and your sudden interest in religion, you will get through it. You spend some time in rehab, and by the time you get out everyone has forgotten that you plowed into a family with your SUV, killing a few people. But a year after you get out of rehab... you do something stupid again, are arrested, and go back to rehab. The Promises rehab facility seems to have a revolving door - the same celebs keep checking in, cleaning up, being released... then checking in again.

Lindsay Lohan was hanging out in bars and clubs *before* she was 21 - I thought that was illegal. Plenty of kids have fake IDs, but we *know* how old Lohan is. So how did she get in...

And after she was released from rehab, and turned herself in to the police for her last drunken vehicular incident, and was released on bond, what does she do?

Go clubbing!

Everybody knows that the best place to go if you have a drug and alcohol abuse problem is a crowded nightclub filled with people drinking and doing coke in the bathroom.

The problem isn’t just drug and alcohol abuse, it’s the choice of lifestyle. Why would you continue the very behavior that got you into trouble in the first place - ankle bracelet or not? The *purpose* of a bar is to serve alcohol. So what the hell are you doing there if you aren’t supposed to drink?

In this grand and glorious country of ours, most people do not go out clubbing every night. They do not spend every waking hour going from one drinking establishment to the next. They have *lives*.

In my previous post I mentioned that when I was in my 20s I could drink and then function the next day... but I didn’t spend every night drinking! I had a full time job at Safeway Grocery working the swing shift (3-Midnight) and was also a full time student at Diablo Valley Community College (recently in the news due to a sex-for-grades scandal), plus I was writing scripts and making short films. Yes, every once in a while Larry, Juan, the crew and I would have a beer in the store parking lot after our shift was over and try to throw paper bags over the letters that spelled SAFEWAY on the awning over the doors... and sometimes on our weekends we’d meet in a bar somewhere and have a couple of beers... but our lives did not revolve around going from club to club drinking. We had lives! I was writing scripts and making movies and going to the movies and reading books. Larry was scuba diving and trying to sleep with every female over the age of 16 who came into the store. Juan had a bunch of kids at home and was constantly taking family camping trips. We all had better things to do than club hop. Like... laundry.

The problem with all of these folks that keep getting busted for drunk driving and going to rehab, only to be busted a couple of weeks after they are released: they need to change their *lifestyle*. If you want to remain sober, don’t hang out in places that exist to serve you drinks. Find some hobby, some purpose in your life, other than going clubbing.


In London, every McDonalds and Burger King has an extensive menu of veggie burger items. These burgers look and taste like beef - you wouldn’t know the difference if they didn’t tell you it was 100% vegetable - great for vegetarians! Over there they seem to have a high percentage of the population that have gone vegetarian, and the fast food chains are targeting them.

I have eaten many veggie burgers - not because I’m a vegetarian, but because I’m a fat guy with high cholesterol who loves hamburgers. I’m a meat eater, and I want to eat something that tastes like meat... but won’t send me to an early grave (well, *earlier* grave - I still eat too much bad food).

If I were a vegetarian I would never eat a veggie burger.... I’d just eat vegetables. There’s an intent thing involved. Making vegetables taste and look like meat is the first step to eating a real hamburger. As the vegetarian played by the great Gerritt Graham says to his supposedly vegan girlfriend in the movie HOME MOVIES: “First beef, and now this!” If you are a vegetarian, and your intentions are to only eat vegetables, then eat the friggin vegetables!

Personally, I’m against vegetarians for reasons spelled out by, I think, Sam Kinison: As humans, we need to maintain our place at the top of the food chain. So many people are becoming vegetarians that we are losing our place at the top of the food chain, and in the future Chuck Heston and his space ship crew will be captured by COWS! Cows! Cows that have evolved because we don't eat them anymore! And they will bring Heston to Daly City to be punished in front of the cow ruler... an evil Cow Queen who lives in... The Cow Palace! The only way to stop this is to keep eating those damned dirty cows....


When I should be writing, I’m often visiting screenwriting messageboards answering people’s questions. The ones that always confuse me are “I want to be a screenwriter, but I don’t really like writing” or “I can’t write” or “I want to be a screenwriter, but I need someone to help me come up with a story, or a character, or a scene idea, or a line of dialogue, or...” I don’t know how to answer these - because they are asking me to do their work for them. To do the creative part of writing. Um, if someone comes up with the story and all of the characters and scenes and dialogue for your script, doesn’t that make you just a *typist*? If someone else is doing the creative part, what is left?

Hey, we all get stuck and need someone to kick-start our imagination every once in a while, I’m talking about those people who want someone else to do their thinking for them - the writing for them. Look, if you want to be a screenwriting, you are going to write screenplays.

And screenwriting is work.

Lots of boring work.

Work that isn’t glamorous or exciting... and most of the time no one in the world will ever see your work.

If you are only after the glamor of screenwriting (whatever that is) and you don’t want to do the difficult, boring writing work part... well, you will never be a screenwriter and will never experience the glamor of premier screenings where the audience of celebs and stars applauds every single name in the opening titles... except yours (they never met you, they *did* meet the craft services person who supplied donuts on set every day). Or that guy gesturing for you to get off the red carpet and find another way into the theater. Or... well, there really is no glamor in a screenwriter’s life. There’s lots of boring work...

Or, maybe lots of exciting work. Depends on what you want in your life.

If you want to stay sober, change your lifestyle so you are not going to places where they serve drinks every night. If you want to be a writer, don’t hang out with people who just talk about writing and don’t *be* someone who just talks about writing - instead... Write!

If you really want to write screenplays, write some screenplays!

- Bill

Also from 2007...


Yesterday’s Lunch: Maple Oatmeal.
DVD: Another DVD I bought on my birthday was KELLY'S HEROES / DIRTY DOZEN double DVD. Kind of a Donald Sutherland & Telly Savalas double bill. I watched both, and realized that DIRTY DOZEN was the model for the movie S.W.A.T. - check it out! My friend Larry, who played the uptight Police Chief guy - same character as Robert Ryan in DD! Sam Jackson is Lee Marvin's character! The whole thing plays out pretty much the same in both movies - even though it isn't obvious. Both films have tough guys who don't deal well with authority given the task of getting a bunch of anti-authority individuals to work as a team... and the Authority guy hoping they screw up and trying to screw them up... only to be outsmarted by the end and look like the silly suit that he is... then the team has a mission that tests all that has come before.
KELLY'S HEROES is a text book example of putting two opposite characters together to create drama and conflict (and comedy) within the team. Donald Sutherland plays a hippy tank commander in WW2 (???) who ends up in scene after scene with tough guy Clint Eastwood. All you have to do is put those two guys next to each other and you have a scene! But the script has them constantly butting heads (and personalities) because they have to work together. This film was obviously the model for THREE KINGS - guys who start out pulling a robbery during war, but end up doing the right thing. In KH it's more *accidental* than in 3K, but the results are the same. Both are fun films - the kind of big team war flick they really don't make anymore.
Pages: None on the new spec, but I designed the labels for the Naked Class CDs and even ran some... plus I'm working on the bonus CD.
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