Thursday, June 18, 2009

You Can Read This Book

Pamela Wallace is one of the Academy Award-winning screenwriters of Witness (1985).

In her book "You Can Write a Movie," Wallace captures the power of the basic idea, especially by pointing to the ratio between cost and profit in making a movie.

She gives us the conventions and expectations that override genres, with the love story getting special mention. She explains why the logline is necessary, and the strengths and flaws in a premise.

She demonstrates how theme determines the success of a movie, pitting Good Will Hunting against Rounders (Matt Damon movies both).  

How to write a screenplay? Wallace shows how to format a screenplay, and samples her CBS movie Borrowed Hearts. She submits that a writer's age and sex will help- or hinder- the writing. She suggests questions to ask in writing a treatment, showing what one should look like. 

"You Can Write a Movie" will guide you in conceiving and personalizing your characters. It asks, Why is a defining moment necessary? What does it provide a character? It takes on villains and supporting characters, as well as relationships and triangles.

Wallace takes up types of conflict, and how to create internal conflict. Here she is on how to play out the struggle between characters:

"The goals of the protagonist and antagonist must be seen to be diametrically opposed. Conflict must be expressed in the strongest possible visual and emotional terms. It isn't enough for your hero to say to the villain, "I'll do my best to see to it that you're defeated." Instead, he must vow to stop him, no matter what the cost."  

Wallace explores the elements of scene design, exposition and speeches, and subtext. She also quotes other professionals, like Joseph Campbell, Robert McKee, and Ron Bass. 

She reflects on how to adapt a book, from securing the rights to fashioning it to cinematic form. She cites her own difficulties in having adapted books, supplying tricks such as axing a character, modifying an arc or subplot, and changing professions to magnify a role.

On top of this, Wallace gives tips on how to pitch a story, and shows a sample for it. She also shows an unproduced work of her own to underline the importance of a coverage (or a written critique of a screenplay). She answers questions on how to get an agent, and how those agents work and what they look for. 

Curiously, "You Can Write a Movie" lacks gravitas, even though it is written by an Oscar winner. That can be attributed to its easy language, but it does prove to be helpful to anyone interested in the craft and the business.