John August and Craiz Mazin discuss the early stages of a sceenwriting career.
Dr. Linda Seger
An area of writing that alludes a lot of writers.
What is it?
How do you create it?
Where does it come from?
Can it be learned over time?
These are questions a lot of writers will ask themselves.
This book attempts to help the writer discover what subtext is and how to use it in their own writing.
The book is divided into eight chapters detailing certain areas.
subtext: a definition and exploration
This is a good introductory chapter with some good examples of when and how subtext is used to convey to the audience what a character means or doesn't mean through the course of dialogue. This chapter alone probably explains enough about what subtext really is and how to use it through dialogue.
Don't make your characters say exactly what's on their mind or how they're truly feeling. Make them dance around a subject area without being forthright about their opinions and true feelings.
Using examples as a way of explaining how subtext is used is a great way for the writer to learn. Two examples are used here.
A conversation taken from Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Casino Royale (2006). These are both great examples to learn from and give the reader a sense of what subtext is and how to use it through dialogue.
expressing subtext through words: character information and back story
This chapter starts off with Dr. Seger discussing character bios and how they're introduced. She uses an example from Fatal Attraction (1987). This is a great movie, but does this example fit in today's writing?
“She must be in her thirties, but she dresses younger, and gets away with it.”
Either she's in her 30s or she isn't and the rest comes across as slightly unfilmable. Better to show rather than tell. Does Dr. Linda Seger write screenplays? Does she have any produced credits?
For seasoned veterans of the industry, they can get away with this. But for up and coming screenwriters, probably best to show this through action and dialogue.
Then the rest of the chapter again deals with dialogue which probably could have been added to the first chapter. Nevertheless, some useful examples, especially the one from Pride and Prejudice (1996). The characters are not being direct with their questions and answers which makes for a far more interesting conversation on page 47.
Not sure about the Indiana Jones reference on page 45. This feels like too much analysis is being made of the example and dialogue. The majority of theater goers go to the flicks to be entertained. They don't leave the theater wanting to write a twenty page dissertation on what worked or didn't work for them.
In film school, YES, analyzing certain movies, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Eraserhead, Apocalypse Now, 2001 A Space Odyssey, etc, is to be expected. However 99.999% of the general populous that goes to the flicks do not analyze films. They go to the movies to be entertained.
techniques for expressing subtext through words
A figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between things of different kinds.
An indirect implication.
An ambiguity with one interpretation that is indelicate.
Are the above really subtext?
This chapter delves into description, names and metaphors.
Are these really subtext?
This really feels like filler.
The name of a character may have a double meaning. An easy example would be the girls from the old James Bond movies. Let's see, 'Pussy Galore'. What does that name tell you? Is there really subtext there or is it just a play on words as to what her character is really like and that she'll end up in the sack with Bond sooner or later.
There's no subtext in names.
Also the constant use of Psycho as an example and this over analysis of Avatar.
A metaphor is a metaphor.
Metaphor = A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity.
This chapter very much comes across as filler.
expressing subtext through gestures and action
This is a good chapter. Sometimes what a person does or doesn't do isn't always what they mean. How a person reacts isn't always the truth.
The body language and behavior of a character and characters in a situation. May not necessarily be their true character. They may act and behave in such a way to fool their enemy or the people around them.
Definitely worth a read.
creating subtext through images and metaphors
Not too keen on this chapter.
As mentioned previously, a metaphor is a metaphor.
Metaphor = A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity.
Of course an image can also be used as a metaphor.
A guy stuck in jail stares out a window and watches a bird fly through the sky.
Make your own assumptions as to what he might be thinking. That's a metaphor.
This chapter feels again like filler.
The fact that music of a movie is brought into it and described as subtext. This feels like a cheat.
Music in a film creates ambience and atmosphere whilst an audience watches the movie. There's no subtext. There might well be anticipation of what's to come possibly or not. But a movie's soundtrack is certainly not subtext.
Granted, sounds may foreshadow certain moments to come in a movie. But again, is this really subtext?
Again, the same movie examples seem to be used. There must be other examples to use other than Psycho. It's a superb film, but honestly.
expressing subtext through the genre
This last chapter comes across as an advert for Avatar.
Again this kind of analysis might be good for film school. But the average joe who goes to the theater will neither think like this during the movie or after the movie.
It could be argued that this kind of analysis is reading way too much into the movie and what it actually means. Did James Cameron think about these things when he was putting the film together, it's possible. Who knows?
You watch a movie to be entertained, not to come out with a degree.
writer alvin sargent ruminates about subtext
When people go to the flicks for two hours. They go there to be entertained, maybe to learn something, but mostly they go to be entertained. They don't take along a notepad and pen and over analyze each piece of dialogue and every scene and every bit of action.
They go to be entertained.
Movies = Entertainment
This book would probably sit well with someone who's in film school who's writing essays and dissertations etc. But this type of over analysis is really not necessary.
Don't misunderstand. There's a lot of useful information with some good examples and then there's the filler and over analysis.
Writer's should be writing movies that they would like to see and movies that will entertain first and foremost.
Most of the population do not analyze movies. They watch them to be ENTERTAINED.
Is it worth getting.
You can check out Dr. Linda Seger's credentials here.
Buy the book and make up your own mind.
This isn't a bad read, neither was it a great read.
This type of analysis seems like overkill.
People don't enter a theater and watch a movie in the hopes of coming out with a degree in film. They go to be entertained.
Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.
Not sure if this is the actual screenplay. Looks like it's been converted to Pdf. They didn't have Pdf back in the day. Looks like the real thing.
Great opening with the first page and a half. Who is this girl who's whacked out on cocaine? Slightly different than the movie, don't remember her talking.
Page five, the three stooges routine. This scene very much sets up Riggs' state of mind. Not the same as the film, but a good introduction to his character.
That's a good introduction to Riggs, the audience/reader can see that he gives a shit and we also find out that he's a cop.
Nice introduction to Murtaugh on page 7, it's his birthday. He has a family, the complete opposite to Riggs.
Murtaugh finds out about Dick Lloyd, guessing this is Michael Hunsacker, his old Vietnam buddy.
Slightly different when he notices Rianne jogging past and he remarks that she's a heartbreaker. In the movie she comes down the staircase in a dress and he makes the comment.
The first hint of something not being right with Riggs when he smashes the TV with the glass on page 12. Something to do with the woman in the photo.
The drug deal on page 18 again sets up Riggs' state of mind. This is one of the memorable scenes in the movie. This is actually where he does the three stooges sketch that happened on page five.
Again he does the three stooges routine here.
Riggs taunts the drug dealer on page 18 to shoot him. He's not afraid of being shot, he doesn't care if he's killed. Why?
Top of page 22 we find out the reason why Riggs is so blasé and doesn't care if he lives or dies. His wife of eleven years was recently killed in a car accident. It makes sense now.
A little twist on page 24. Amanda Lloyd was poisoned.
Murtaugh meets Riggs on page 26. Great turning point.
Nice introduction of the bad guys on page 28. Mr.Joshua is just as crazy as Riggs. They're bound to meet at some point.
Not sure about the scene on page 55-56 with Riggs and the Hooker. It wasn't in the original release but they included it in the Director's cut I seem to remember. Still not sure if it shows Riggs in a good or bad light.
But he's only watching television with her so I guess it's okay. It also shows that he's in desperate need of company since his wife died.
It's a shame this scene with the Hooker on page 58 isn't in the movie. Why include the scene when he picks her up and not include this one?
That's another thing, Roger smokes in this. He's against smoking in the movie and doesn't appreciate Riggs smoking in the car.
Slightly different from the movie. When Hunsacker (Lloyd) gets shot on page 77. Mr. Joshua does it from the safety of a helicopter in the movie which is a little implausible but extremely fun. Why didn't they hear the helicopter coming?
So the helicopter does make an appearance and Mr. Joshua jumps on board. This actually works a little better than the actual movie version. It seems more plausible. Wonder why they changed it?
The scene with Riggs shooting at the helicopter is very much how it plays out in the movie. He's not happy.
I haven't even started.
Riggs is seriously disliking Mr. Joshua now. Recognizes him as the one who shot Hunsacker.
Great scene on pages 85-86 with Riggs and Carrie. This scene would have been great in the movie. Not sure why they didn't include it. It shows a nice side to Riggs. A very caring side of his character.
Riggs doesn't get all dressed up in the movie when they head for the desert on page 89. The scene where he gets dressed up in desert fatigues probably would've been a little too cheesy. Glad they didn't put it in the movie.
The fight scene between Riggs and Mr. Joshua starts on page 110. Still not sure about this scene in the movie. Would it happen?
This is a much better fight than in the movie. Riggs finishes Mr. Joshua off rather than Riggs and Roger shooting him as they do in the movie.
The fight scene also seems to be shorter.
Nice ending, the bottle of pills is replaced with a bullet in the actual movie on page 116.
The ending is definitely different to the start. Riggs lost his wife, he's alone. Now he's been welcomed into a new family. And he's about to enjoy a Christmas meal with Roger.
Great movie. Great screenplay.
Wish they'd put some elements of this into the actual movie.
Don't think there's been a buddy cop movie as good as this since this came out.
You have to respect anyone who can write a screenplay that's as good as this at the age of 23. A very unique writing style. This is definitely worth a read by anyone who's learning to write.
Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.
Not as easy as it sounds. Especially if you have a large pool of ideas to work from. The trick is not to worry about the current market or where it might be going. It’s impossible to predict. Write the story that interests you, the story that you’d like to see on the big screen or the little screen. There are no magic formulas for working out what’s going to be hot or not next year or what someone might be buying a few years from now.
Write what you know = Write what interests you = A story that will make your creative juices flow.
Whether it’s a romance or a hard hitting action movie, if it’s not something that interests you or something that you wouldn’t want to watch yourself. Why write it?
Write, write, write and keep writing.
Get those outlines written and get those first drafts written as quickly as possible.
The real writing happens when you start those rewrites.
Here's where the fun begins.
Star Wars (1977)
Working on a number of projects will also help if you suffer from writer's block. Or you get stuck, lost on a project or have no idea where to take the story or a character.
You can put your energy into the other project or projects you have on the boil. While doing this, you'll give yourself some breathing space to meander and reflect on what course of action to take and which direction to take your story.
A few more
The Wild Bunch (1969)
John August discusses with Craig Mazin whether or not it's worth going to film school.
Mr. Tango has spoken very elloquently... and I wish I could be as forgiving... but I can't because... This whole thing... Fucking sucks!
Sawyer, you're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!
Stealing Tony's shoes
Nine million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister.
I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.
He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!
(Refering to Vietnam)
Somebody once wrote:
"Hell is the impossibility of reason."
That's what this place feels like. Hell.
Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor. Don't you forget it. You're going to get back on that horse, and I'm going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!
Where do you get your story ideas from?
Do you go looking for them or do they just randomly pop into your sub consciousness and stay there? Until one day they just reveal themselves.
Ideas can come at anytime.
You could be taking a breather from writing and gone for a walk.
Dreams can be a good source if you can remember them.
You may well be watching a movie and think, ‘hey, that’ll make a good movie’.
A newspaper article may give you an idea for a story.
You’re at your local supermarket.
Anything and anyone could inspire you.
This is why you should always carry around your little black notebook.
There’s nothing worse than coming up with an idea. Only to find that by the time you get home you’ve forgotten it.
Always keep handy, a pen and your little black notebook.
Currently debating on whether or not to write a pilot episode for BBC – Writersroom.
Welcome to Russell’s website. A storyteller who enjoys writing screenplays for movies. Even though the process is hard. It keeps his imagination working overtime.
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