I spent most of Saturday in a UCI classroom with thirteen other people listening to Paul Chitlik. He's a UCLA Film School guru. A friend of mine refers to him as "Mister Rewrite." It turns out, there's a right and a wrong way to do a screenplay rewrite.
Which is true of almost everything else in screenwriting. It's incredibly formulaic. So formulaic in fact that the people you send your screenplays to expect to see certain things happening on certain pages. There are rules about what happens and where and when it happens. It's almost like a religion. And the good screenwriters, like good theologians, know how to be creative without leaving the reservation. As one teacher put it, "Learn the rules, then break them intelligently." Or as one "How To Write A Screenplay" book says, give me the same, only different. Whew!
Paul Chitlik is worth the five hours. Anyone who has screenwriting ambitions should take his course.
Here's the outline of Saturday's class and you can see from it how the basic screenwriting building blocks work:
1. Ordinary Life. First 10 pages. Getting to know who the central character is and what her issue is. In Thelma & Louise, at the beginning we see Louise's boring waitress gig and poor Thelma being pushed around by her husband.
2. The Inciting Incident. Usually around page 15, give or take a couple of pages. This is what changes her life forever. This compels her to act. Louise shoots Harlan when he tries to rape Thelma.
3. End of Act One. When your character decides on a course of action in order to deal with whatever the inciting incident brought up. Making a plan is part of that. This occurs between pages 25-35. Thelma and Louise decide to flee to Mexico.
4. Midpoint or turning point. This happens right around the middle wherein the action takes a sudden and new unexpected direction. The goal may change. The central character may realize what his/her flaw is. The want becomes a need. JD steals their Mexico money. Thelma "grows up" and takes charge.
5. The Low Point. End of the second act. The "all is lost" point in terms of the goal. There's no way in hell they'll ever reach their goal. Happens around page 75-80. The cops close in.
6. The Final Challenge. That final test, the final barrier that your character must overcome in order to reach her goal. Very close to the end. They resolve to go out in a blaze of glory on their own terms. Woohooo!
7. Return to Normal Life, but forever changed. Two or three pages to show us that life goes on and that our character has triumphed. A montage showing Thelma and Louise setting out on their journey.
The next time you go to a flick with your significant other, drive everyone crazy with this outline. You'll never get invited again.
The other thing Professor Chitlik stressed was the A, B and C stories. You've got to have them scoped out in detail and you have to know how they interact and support one another. The A Story is the plot. The B Story is the relationship. The C Story is the character arc. Most people who liked Thelma & Louise focused on the B Story, on how the relationship between the two ladies evolved. The key to that evolution was the C Story, which tracked Thelma's character arc. If Thelma hadn't grown and become tough, it wouldn't have been much of a story.
Thelma & Louise. If you haven't seen it lately, check it out.