The Master Class was in session this past weekend.
This is where we take the logline and 15 beats of your movie idea, and we put it up on the dreaded Board — aka The Rack, aka The Wailing Wall — and proceed to beat on it until we get the 40 scenes you need to start writing.
We also color code the B, C, and D stories to show you how they work — or don’t — and fill in the >< symbol on each card indicating the conflict in the scene and the +/- indicating the emotional shift in the scene — and show that every card MUST be filled in before you begin. Why? Because a scene is a mini-movie with its own plot points, beginning, middle, and end. And if a scene is a mini-story why shouldn’t it adhere to the same rules that a screenplay does?
We call it breaking the story, but really it’s about finding it. And this workshop is the most unique thing out there for screenwriters. Theory is fine, sitting in a lecture hall listening to someone describe great moments in movies is highly enjoyable, but if you want to really do this job, you have to do it. You must work it the same way it’s always been worked. In a room. Staring at the board. Drinking coffee. And saying: “I’m not satisfied yet, there’s something wonky about the middle; let’s see if we can find a better way to raise the stakes.”
And I love it.
I’ve been doing this for 20 + years, attacked 1000 stories, and it never is anything but exciting.
Like the weekend before when we broke 11 stories in one introductory weekend — a feat my industry friends were shocked by when I returned to town and reported the results! And this past Saturday and Sunday, we had another great group in the house — all writers who have been there with agents, or at the studio level, and want more. Such creative minds! There’s no crying in baseball and no crying in screenwriting either. Give up your darlings! Leave your pre-conceived notions at the door. Be willing to see it a whole new way. And when you do, miracles happen. Bigger, better stories appear. And solutions get found.
Often it’s an 11th Hour fix. I think I am most proud of those. This Sunday, for instance, our little minds turned to jello, looking at the board of a movie we had seen three times or more during the weekend… when suddenly we felt a nagging urge to do even better. In this case, we came up with a fix for the writer’s third act that aligned the whole story and made it make even more sense — and I can’t stop thinking about how magical that is!
On the good days, when we have these breakthroughs, I feel like Billy Wilder and Izzy Diamond writing Some Like It Hot. They did it, like we do it, like it’s always been done: in a little office, staring at each other, and doing the hard work. But if you ask the tough questions, you iron out the trouble spots, and better things come from it. And sometimes at the end of the day you realize you had it all along too.
Famously, that’s how Wilder and Diamond came up with the final line for their sex-switch comedy. When told that the woman he is going to marry is actually a man, when Jack Lemmon takes off his wig and confesses, Joe E. Brown says, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Wilder and Diamond couldn’t think of anything better. But we know they tried. Up until they shot the scene, they were still ready to find something even more satisfying.
That’s what it’s all about.