How screenwriter Shane Black and director Richard Donner created a landmark action movie of the 80s by injecting a bit of humanity into the story
Martin Riggs is crazy. Not just your usual kind of crazy. He’s CRAZY. “Jumping off the top of a building for fun” kind of crazy.
A story about a family man cop partnering up with a loose cannon ready for the mental asylum is not a unique story in itself. Mismatched partners is a movie trope as old as movies themselves, but Lethal Weapon have managed to stay relevant and watchable decades past its original premiere in 1987
One of the reasons why Lethal Weapon has captured our attention for so long is the amount of depth there is to the characters. Depth? In an action movie from the 80s? With Mel Gibson? Yes, depth.
So, how do you go about writing a screenplay for a feature length movie? Or any longer story for that matter?
You do one thing: Outline. Outline. Outline…. and… outline.
I know that many big-time novelists and screenwriters don’t outline at all. The Coen brothers have said in numerous interviews that they never outline, but for the rest of us, I truly believe that outlining is the way to go.
The classic books on screenwriting by Syd Field, Michael Hauge, and Christopher Vogler all talk about the need for structure to your story. Here, I’ve tried to summarize their wisdom and mix it all together to come up with a fundamental structure for storytelling.
It has worked really well for me and has always kept my writing on track and moving forward.
Why is structure so important to a story?
Stories, like music, almost always follow some kind of rhythm or harmony. I’m no musician but I can clearly hear if a piece of music is out of tune.
Creativity — music, storytelling, paintings — need to follow some form of structure. There must be a plan to the madness. If there is no structure, everything is muddled together and becomes noise.
Stories that don’t follow a structure often feel rushed, or flat and boring or, as is most often the case, become hard to follow.
On Why Hitchcock Still Can Make You Sit on the Edge of Your Seat.
Written as part of my education in Medialogy in December 2003
From the introduction:
What is Suspense?
Suspense is today such an incorporated element of movies that it for many seems second hand, but what elements are needed to create a good suspense scene? It is easy to spot a non-working suspense scene, but what are the key elements that make a good scene become a masterpiece?
It is impossible to talk about suspense without mentioning Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). He was the master of the technique. Although Hitchcock was not the first to use suspense in movies he had in the “golden era” of his career (from the mid 50s to the late 60s) developed a template for implementing suspense that worked so well that it is still revered as the best examples of the use of suspense.
In Hitchcock’s own words:
“There is a clear difference between surprise and suspense […]. We are sitting here and having an innocent conversation. Let us assume that there is a bomb under this table between us. […] suddenly there is a loud boom and the bomb goes off. The audience is surprised, but before this surprise they have only seen a very ordinary scene without any significance. Let us instead look at suspense scene. The bomb is under the table and the audience is aware of this because they have seen the anarchist plant it there. They also know that the bomb will go off at one o’clock, and up on the wall is a clock showing that the time is now quarter to one […]. In the first scene we have given the audience 15 seconds of surprise […] but in the last scene we have given them fifteen minutes of suspense.”.
The whole scene rests on this difference in knowledge and the audience’s fear on behalf of the unknowing characters.
In short: Suspense is a dramaturgy technique that plays of the difference in knowledge between the audience and the characters on the screen. It often revolves around subjects like; will the hero reach the right place and save the heroine before it is too late? Will the bomb expert defuse the bomb before it goes of? Will the detective see the sinister figure waiting in the alley?