Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How set pieces can save your script

I’m still writing at least 3 pages of script a day – it’s flowing along and doesn’t feel like a huge amount of effort. This is not so much because of my commitment or drive but because I had written a detailed outline in advance. This means you have a map. You know where you’re going so there are no plot hitches along the way. I highly recommend never leaving home without an outline.

The other thing that helps is that this is a script that comes with built-in set pieces. Dotted throughout are little scenes where the audience gets a chance to laugh and be awed. And no, it’s not an action movie, it’s a romcom.

But all scripts – at least in my opinion – need set pieces. These scenes don’t have to involve explosions or buildings collapsing. In my romcom, the set pieces so far involve a piece of bizarre behaviour in a restaurant, a silly accident on a construction site and a man wading out into a lake to rescue a vicious lapdog.

In a horror film, they would include a stalking or two and a couple of chase scenes, culminating in a bigger set piece where the hero faces the killer/monster/zombie.

It's probably exaggerated, but there's a story about producer Joel Silver insisting on a set piece every 11 pages in each of his action scripts. Still, maybe he had a point...

A movie I saw recently that used set pieces well was 21 Jump Street. The funniest one – and the least action-packed - was the bit early on where the two undercover cops are forced to do drugs in the middle of the school day. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were both brilliant in this sequence, and it helped that the script had foreshadowed this nicely a few scenes before where we saw a kid taking the same drug and his reactions to it. Strangely, the one set piece that didn’t work for me was the closing one, which you’d have thought would be the best (spoiler alert – the drug kingpin and the other bad guys crash the school prom). The writers just didn’t make enough of the prom setting and it wasn’t funny or dramatic enough.

In a lot of movies, the set pieces are also the trailer moments and often the bits you remember long after you’ve forgotten the rest of the film. For example,Casablanca is about transit papers. The good guys want them and the bad guys want to get their hands on them first. But transit papers are yawn-some. The parts we remember from Casablanca are actually things like Rick’s relationship with Ilse and their mouthwatering dialogue, the sleazy bar singing La Marseillaise in front of a bunch of Nazis and Claude Rain’s brilliantly devious Captain Renault saving the day at the end.  

Work on the plot, nurture the characters. But remember to build in some juicy set pieces!

I’ve also been plotting and planning re. my trip to L.A. Full disclosure: I know a fair few people I can look up over there but none of them are studio heads or big producers. So I’ll have to come up with a decent plan of action about who to contact, agent and producer-wise.

I had a thought the other day which was, why don’t I just contact some agents before I go and explain that I’ll be in Hollywood on such and such a day and can I buy them a coffee? Or even a decent lunch?

Has anyone tried this? And if so, did it work? Or is this hopelessly naive and Irish of me? Back to the Hollywood Directory til next time…


Dianna said...

Hi there. I enjoyed your blog post. I too am a rom com writer and am working on making my set pieces bigger in my script. They are what sells the script (along with a good story!) When are you going to LA? I can give you some advice if you want it. It took me 5 years to find a manager (legit one) and quite a while to start making contacts. (by joining screenwriting groups and attending workshops, seminars) It unfortunately really is who you know, but eventually -- you will know somebody!


eilism said...

Hi Dianna,

Thanks for the comment! I'm flying into L.A. on 20th August and would welcome any advice you can offer a newbie! I've been to L.A. before but it was years ago and only on holiday.

My email's eilis@dublintohollywood.com