Thursday, August 21, 2008

Screenwriting for a Global Market by Andrew Horton

Andrew Horton. Screenwriting for a Global Market. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Many American filmmakers may not fully understand that many American movies are viewed worldwide. Screenwriters should note that their abilities of selling scripts are not limited to American companies. Many films are created across the world and then are viewed in many nations. Screenwriters need to be aware of this global market, both in terms of selling screenplays and to note when writing them.

The author recommends that screenwriters should become familiar with this global market. He recommends visiting foreign countries, learning the spirit of the people in other cultures, writing collaboratively with foreign writers, attending foreign film festivals, and surfing the Internet for information about different places across the world.

Andrew Horton suggests that a screenwriter should seize the one moment or image that constantly appears in one’s hand and try to discover what is driving that moment or image. That opening up of a persistent thought can be expanded into a screenplay revolving around this encompassing thought.

One will learn there are cultural differences in filmmaking itself. In Germany and the former Yugoslavia, it is not unusual to simultaneously film a movie and a television miniseries.

The foreign market responds to both Hollywood formula scripts and experimental scripts.

Screenwriters must realize that the traditional manner which American filmmakers use to present stories has not basically altered since American films began dominating the global film market since World War I. Kriston Thompson calls the “classical narrative technique” as a series of easily understood causes and effects that create emotional responses. Progression, clarity, and unity are the three main parts of these causes and effects.

The elements of Hollywood movies are easy-to-follow characters who have goals, an easy to follow unifying plot, a proper pacing in the story, resolved endings, and a set genre.

The author writes it is alright for screenwriters to tackle controversial or difficult topics. He does not believe there have to be three acts. Screenwriters are advised there is a global market for strong children’s films. Screenwriters should not screenplays can both entertain and have an important message. The author notes not all screenplays have to end happily.

Ang Lee has been successful in combining fight scenes popular in Asia with character development popular in Europe. His films have successfully used overlapping genres, action plots, shown personal growth in the main characters, shown romance with tragic detours in the midst of the action, developed strong and intelligent female roles, and combined tragedy with humor.

The Coen brothers use rapidly moving funny dialogue, strong secondary characters, incorporation of background music into the story, and use brief and concise scenes.

Harry Sinclair writes long treatments for improvised scenes that were then rewritten into a final written script. This blends the works of actors, directors, and screenwriters.

Some popular Brazilian and Mexican soap operas, instead of being broadcast in foreign countries, sell the scripts to foreign companies who reshoot the soap operas for their own countries. Some American TV series are adapted from British TV series.

Andrew Horton suggests it is possible and often advisable for screenwriters to create scenes that intermix crises and difficult times with humor.

The Cinderella story has been successfully retold in other stories. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a movie that retold this type story.

“The Sopranos” successfully mixed dark comedy into drama, presented violence with a point regarding a character’s life instead of showing gratuitous violence, presented a nuanced protagonist with nuanced secondary characters, and presented the multiethnic side to northern New Jersey instead of limited the view to Italian Americans.

Filmmaker Michael Rabiger advises screenwriters to have the courage to write simple stories without gimmicks.

Lew Hunter agrees with William Goldman that great screenwriting consists of “structure, structure, structure” yet adds it should also include “conflict, conflict, conflict”. Richard Walter states “nobody wants to see a movie about the village of the happy people.”

Richard Nougmanov recommends a screenwriter establish the movie’s premise, situation, genre, and character within the first ten minutes. This is Act 1. It is important to set the world being presented in this first act. The main character does not necessarily have to appear in this first act. The starting plot has to be presented, yet this can be presented by a supporting character. Act 2 presents the movie’s intrigue. Unexpected revelations are made to the starting plot that takes the protagonist into new directions and beyond a point of no return. Act 3 is where the protagonist learns about the obstacles being faced in the story. This is about 30 pages long. The midpoint, which is the high point, occurs in Act 3 where the protagonist discovers and learns how to overcome the hurdles that exist in the upcoming battles. Act 4 is where the villain strikes back. New obstacles are placed in the path of the protagonist’s goals. The hero reaches bottom and either must quit or rise again. Act 5 is the confrontation, or the final battle.

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