Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Moral Premise on The Weam Namou Show

Weam Namou (WEE-am NA-moo), one of my students from years ago, continues to write books and make documentaries. She recently asked me to be the Vice President on her non-profit's Board of Directors of a 501(c)(3) she started called Unique Voices in Films. https://uniquevoicesinfilms.org/

I agreed, and now we're in the throes of trying to make a documentary and a feature narrative. One of Weam's geniuses is to conduct a weekly cable TV interview show. It's not that so many people watch it, but that in the process she gets to know dozens of influential people in S.E. Michigan where we both live. Thus, she has a great network.

In helping her on her feature script POMEGRANATE, which I like very much and have agreed to producer for her directorial debut, we went through the story's structure, using the 8-foot tall story diamond I keep behind a door in my office. That her in the picture on the right posting a beat in Act 3.

So, a few weeks ago, she had me on her show a second time to talk just about the Moral Premise. It's below on YouTube.  It's basic, but informative, I think.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

WGA v. Talent Agencies Draw a Line on the Marble Floor

There has been a war brewing between screenwriters and talent agencies in Hollywood. But the frustration is felt most, I think, by independent producers who try to attach talent to a project in order to secure distribution or a funding deal...but can't.

Communicating in Hollywood is like stacking blocks made from inflatable plastic packaging material. They're easy to lift but impossible to build anything stable unless their crammed in a box and otherwise deformed.

Mark Litwak
Some of you may know of Mark Litwak the super entertainment attorney from LA who has helped thousands of independent filmmakers, if not with direct production counsel, then with his entertainment contract templates which I've used for years.

His blog is always interesting because he gets into the nitty gritty of the dealings in Hollywood that are impossible to negotiate for the uninitiated...but somehow get done.

The first link below will take you to his very good explanation of the coming war, and (secondly) why it's difficult to get anything done in Hollywood. I can attest it is true, even for A-List that I've been in meetings with. Even those on the deep inside find it very difficult to get things done....as Mark explains.

This is why I am always encouraging young screenwriters to find friends who are filmmakers to make their own films. Forget Hollywood. Of course, you have to write it cheap so you can afford it, but getting stuff done is ultimately more satisfying that spitting into the Santa Ana Winds.

Enjoy: https://www.marklitwak.com/blog/wga-v-talent-agencies

and here's a little more background from Variety just a few weeks ago.

https://variety.com/2019/film/news/writers-guild-hollywood-agents-negotiations-1203169747/

Sunday, February 24, 2019

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: A Moral Premise Analysis

Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel in THE PASSION...
This is a long post. You can save it as a PDF and print  it out for study. Use the green PRINT PDF tool in the right column, just below the fold.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004)

Director: MEL GIBSON
Writers: BENEDICT FITZGERALD, MEL GIBSON
Stars: JIM CAVIEZEL, MONICA BELLUCCI, MAIA MORGENSTERN



CHARACTER TRAITS

In my Moral Premise Secrets of Successful Screenplay workshops I illustrate five (5) key traits of protagonists found in successful stories. In brief, the protagonist must: (1) be IMPERFECT, (2) STRIVE TO CHANGE, (3) pursue an OUTER, VISIBLE GOAL, (4) be impeded in reaching that goal by a PSYCHOLOGICAL NEED, which has (5) created INSURMOUNTABLE PHYSICAL OBSTACLES.

THE "PERFECT" PROTAGONIST

Regarding the first trait, I warn writers not to write stories about perfect protagonists, because audiences can't identify with perfection. Audiences subliminally know: (a) they are personally far from perfect and (b) everyone has a weakness or vice. It's also (c) hard to root for the perfect to be better, although (d) audiences will root for characters who fall into bad circumstances beyond their control, or who don't deserve ill treatment heaped on them.

By definition, protagonists typically struggle with some vice or weakness, and through the circumstances of Act 2, transform that vice/weakness into a virtue/strength, return from their Special World of Act 2 with the discovered elixir in hand, and save their village from annihilation. Ironically, the "perfect" protagonist, is perfect only because in Act 1 she is imperfect, and by the end of Act 3 is a little less imperfect.

Finally, because the audience was on the sidelines cheering-on the protagonist throughout the struggle, the audience is made part of the journey...and they too are transformed. Such is the magic, the miracle, and the great attraction of a story well-told.

HEROES ARE NOT PROTAGONISTS

There are, however, successful movies (and novels) about near perfect protagonists. One such film is BRAVEHEART, which Mel Gibson directed and starred in as the historic savior of Scotland, William Wallace. Wallace is a Hero, not a protagonist. See Hero vs. Protagonist post for a fuller difference, but here it is in shorthand. In the course of a successful story, a hero changes very little, but a protagonist changes a lot. Consequently, the protagonist's arc is deeper than the hero's arc.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, directed by Gibson, however did feature a perfect main character, and the movie was a great success—THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Shortly after telling writers to avoid perfect protagonists, my audience of writers often challenge me with THE PASSION, and ask how can such a film featuring a perfect, sinless protagonist, be a success? How can the audience identify with the protagonist, that is the Christ, who in the words of St. Peter "committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth," (1 Peter 2:22)?

JESUS: BOTH PROTAGONIST AND HERO

There are several things going on in THE PASSION that are illustrated by comparing it to a very similar but different film.

The Passion of the Christ vs. The Last Temptation of Christ


Jesus on trial in THE PASSION
While different in plot and success, THE PASSION (Gibson, 2004, $611M WW) and LAST TEMPTATION (Scorsese, 1989, $8M WW) are similar in several respects—both deal with Jesus's last week on earth, some of his temptations, and his death by crucifixion.  But for the purposes of this blog, both premised their story on the same theological concept—that while Jesus was fully divine, he was also fully human. And it is this latter trait that Gibson and Scorsese focused on—Jesus's human nature.

Scorsese focused on the Hebrews 4:15 passage that Jesus "was tempted in every way just as we are...". Thus, Scorsese illustrates Jesus being tempted sexually (as all men are tempted) and subsequently not going through with the crucifixion but choosing to get married and raise a family. That's the temptation Scorsese portrays. Nonetheless, Scorsese shows Jesus ultimately rejecting this last temptation, and submitting to being crucified for the sins of the world. Many fundamental Christians, led on by their pundits, rejected Scorsese's movie because they believed Scorsese's depiction was too Arian in nature—that the humanity Scorsese portrayed overpowered his divinity. They were also upset with the screen time of the temptation, perhaps 20 minutes. The movie also depicts Jesus struggling with the temptation that he is not the Christ, which is how Satan does tempt Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism. To such Christian thinking the temptation had to have been mere milliseconds, not several reels of a movie, so they rejected, protested, boycotted, and demeaned THE LAST TEMPTATION no end...even to this day. To me, Scorsese did an admirable job and I find little fault with the film theologically because the movie is, in fact, A FILM, A MOVIE, A STORY that takes place in temporal time, which requires minutes and hours to portray. It is not a THEOLOGICAL PROPOSITIONAL STATEMENT that only has to exist in philosophical space. Scorsese did the harder thing—he makes the last temptation tangible for humans to see and understand.  (Pity the theologians on this one.) 

On the other hand...

Gibson focused on the Isaiah 53:5: passage, "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." 
Thus, Gibson illustrates Jesus taking on the pain and suffering that is due to a person who has sinned, broken the law, has been found guilty and sentenced to suffer or even die for the wrong they have committed. In THE PASSION we see Christ taking on the corruption of humanity—sin, committed by all people, in all places, throughout all of time. Portraying this did not involve a hint of Jesus actually sinning, or even being tempted to sin in the explicit way Scorsese portrayed. As close as THE PASSION gets to portraying Christ sinning, is in the beginning of the film when Jesus is praying in the garden. Satan appears as if this was a continuation of the wilderness temptation three years earlier (and indeed the temptations may never have ceased). He/She (indeed Gibson's Satan is androgynous) tells Jesus that the crucifixion will be "too much for one man to bear." Jesus gives a nod to the temptation by praying, "Father, Y-you can do all things. If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me... But let your will be done, not mine." (Matthew 26:39). This is where Scorsese takes on his narrative, and elaborates on the scenes that may have flashed through Jesus's mind in a millisecond during that prayer, but which Scorsese needed 20-30 minutes to portray. (Pity the Christians who objected to Scorsese taking 20 minutes to portray in spacetime what they think was instantaneous. Pity them double for they do not know, as the temptations may have lasted Jesus' whole life.)

ANTECEDENTS


But the difference between the films is obvious. For one thing Gibson spent $30M in 2004, while Scorsese spent but $7M 15 years earlier (the cost of inflation does not account for the difference). It could also be argued, parenthetically, that Gibson stuck closer to the Biblical Narrative, while Scorsese let his imagination guide him.  But there are deeper story reasons why the two films were different and probably embraced and rejected as they were. And that deeper reason is their extra-Biblical antecedents. And since Hollywood is heavy into antecedents, a couple of paragraphs about such for these films is reasonable.


Nikos Kazantzakis vs. Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich

The Pieta moment in THE PASSION
Another reason the two films were different and were received differently was due to their secondary antecedents. Of course, both films were primarily based on the New Testament record. But, Scorsese drew significant inspiration for LAST TEMPTATION on writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis's book of the same title. Kazantzakis (1883–1957) was born into Greek Orthodoxy but throughout his literary career publicly struggled with his Christian faith. Much of his religious writing focused on Christ's humanity, but Nikos was not technically an Arian. Nonetheless, he was almost excommunicated from the Orthodox Church for this views. Similarly, when Scorsese's film came out, Kazantzakis's views (as seen in the film) were again roundly criticized. It was clear that Christians disliked LAST TEMPTATION as much for Kazantzakis's writings as for Scorsese's interpretation of it.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikos_Kazantzakis)

Gibson, on the other hand, was criticized for expanding on the Gospel's literal portrayal to include Catholic tradition, although we Catholics liked these touches, e.g. Veronica's veil. But some found fault with Gibson's additional reliance on the writings of mystic and visionary Anne Catherine Emmerich. 
Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich was an Augustinian nun (1774–1824). During her life she experienced the mystical phenomenon of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, which, after a study ordered by her bishop, were judged by a panel of physicians and clergy to be authentic. In addition, she had mystical visions, the content of which came to be written down by Clemens Brentano, a man who served as her secretary in this regard. Among the most famous of her writings is The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (http://www.ewtn.com/Expert/answers/Emmerich.htm)
So, while Kazantzakis was almost kicked out of his church, Emmerich has been embraced by her's, and her cause is open to beatification—someday perhaps she'll be known as St. Anne Emmerich. This also accounted for the difference in popularity and acceptance of the two films.

Now my point and digression into this detail is that Scorsese (with Kazantzakis) and Gibson (with Emmerich), produced works that focused on Jesus's humanity. Why is that?

WOODY VS. MEL
Gibson and Scorsese focused on Jesus's humanity because of what I tell writers when choosing their heroes and protagonists and developing the beats to their stories—avoid characters that are perfect. In this case, Gibson and Scorsese did not focus on Jesus the divine God, but rather on Jesus the human man. Of course you may object: Jesus was not really a protagonist that transforms, but rather a hero that stays true to his nature. Or said another way, Jesus the Hero was an anchor character and did not change while pursuing his goal, because a Protagonist does change.

I suggest that in THE PASSION we have both, and we have them in a way that powerfully connects with the human audience.

A hint of how THE PASSION, and let me shift to Gibson's movie and set Scorsese's aside, connects with the audience is revealed in Woody Allen's THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985). (Yes, we have to invoke Woody Allen, the Wittenburg Door's 1974 Theologian of the Year.) In PURPLE ROSE Allen tells the 1935 era story of a New Jersey housewife, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) who finds solace and reprieve from her abusive husband, by sitting through repeated screenings of a movie, "The Purple Rose of Cario" starring Gil Shepherd as Tom Baxter both played by Jeff Daniels. Allen's movie is about how audiences emotionally, and then physically, connect with characters on screen. Cecilia is so taken and connected with the movie character Tom Baxter, a perfect man in her estimation, that the actor playing him, Gil Shepherd, takes notice of Cecilia sitting in the movie theater, learns of her pitiful plight, takes compassion on her, and fully identifies with her, as she did with him. Shepherd sacrifices his identity and career, breaks the 4th wall, leaves the scene on the screen and comes into the movie theater to meet and console Cecilia. A romance of sorts ensues and Shepherd invites her to come up into the movie and become part of the scenes, which she does. The consequences and the consternation this creates is delightful. But what Allen achieves is a grand depiction of how the successful filmmaker connects with audiences, so that the audience will connect with the filmmaker through the characters on the screen.  In short, Allen accomplishes this by removing Shepherd's fictional, celluloid nature and making him as human as the audience, and thus drawing Cecilia ever more so into the embodiment of the film.  This is what all good filmmakers do—their fictional, fantasy, imagined characters become human, and exhibit the foibles, the weaknesses, the vices and even the mortality of the human audience. 


And that is what happens in THE PASSION. Jesus takes pity on the audience's plight, has compassion on them, and sacrifices himself and his divine identity,  takes on their foibles, weaknesses, vices and submits to mortality and death for the human audience. So, although Jesus is an anchoring, unchanging character in his divinity, he is also the audience's stand-in protagonist that in his human nature takes on all the vices and problems of humanity and struggles to sacrifice his divinity to pay the consequences for identifying with us. A passage from Philippians 2:6-8 comes to mind about how Jesus (as God) identified with us: "Who, being in very nature God...made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. "


The January 1975 cover of The Wittenburg Door
announcing Woody Allen as the 1974 Theologian
 of the Year. (Yes, I still have my collection
intact from which this image was scanned).
Another way to say much the same thing is that like Shepherd, who breaks the 4th wall, and comes into Cecilia's world to comfort and love her, that is what Jesus, as God, did. He broke the 4th wall, left heaven, and came into our world to comfort and love us.

The Wittenburg Door, which was like the Mad Magazine of Christianity in the 1970s and 1980s, gave Woody Allen the Theologian of the Year Award for good reason. Unlike most Christian theologians and preachers, Allen, through his movies, was able to repeatedly get society to think about three important topics—God, Sex, and Death. But, until I wrote this blog, I had never considered that THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO got us to think about Jesus, if even by analogy.

Another point about the audience's easy identification with Jesus is this. Although he was perfect in the mind of many of the audience, it was clear to them that he was suffering and being mistreated. He was innocent, and yet he was being terrorized. Even without the subliminal guilt that the audience feels because Jesus's sufferings is due to their sin, the audience would still feel compassion for the horrible treatment such an innocent man receives due to the pride and selfishness of others, especially hypocritical religious leaders.

JESUS'S ARC

As the movie begins, we find Jesus in the garden pleading with God, his Father. His humanity is battling the call to the journey in Act 2 & 3 that is seemingly before him—great suffering and death.

In flashbacks here, and throughout the movie, especially as he bears the cross to Golgotha, we discover it's Jewish Passover, when spotless lambs are slaughtered across town in the temple, and blood flows as priests offer sacrifices for the people's sins. It's a time of atonement. Jesus celebrates Passover with this Apostles, setting them up for his sacrifice. He is the spotless Lamb of God, to be offered up, his blood flowing for the atonement of all humanity. It is during this Passover meal that the Eucharist and communion are instituted. "This is my body...this is my blood...offered  up for many and the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me." (Matthew 26:26, 1 Corinthians 11:24-26)

Rosalinda Celentano as
Satan in THE PASSION

But in the garden, the Apostles do not understand this. They know something is happening. But they've never seen Jesus quite like this—disturbed, sorrowful, sweating blood. Jesus's arc starts here, early in Act 1, and we get a fuller picture of it with this dialogue:
SATAN: (to Jesus) Do you really believe that one man can bear the full burden of sin? 
JESUS: (to God) Shelter Me, O, Lord. I trust in you. In you I take refuge. 
SATAN: (to Jesus) No one man can carry this burden, I tell you. It is far too heavy. Saving their souls is too costly. No-one. Ever. No. Never. 
JESUS: (to God) Father, Y-you can do all things. If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me... But let your will be done, not mine. 
SATAN: (to Jesus) Who is your father? Who are you?

Notice in Satan's first and second line the reference to "one man" .... Jesus's humanity, which indeed is the story's arc. The story question then becomes, "Will Jesus, be fully aware of who he is, unlike the doubts expressed in Scorsese's film. Will Jesus be the heroic man we hope he is, and follow through with the pain and suffering for all humanity? Will he have passion sufficient to follow through and die, in order to "bear the full burden of sin" for all times? In his second line above Jesus asks his Father to let him off the hook—literally. Two-thirds the way through, when he falls the second time and Mother Mary catches up with him, he says to her, "See, mother, I make all things new." The irony in this line is the movie's hook. If he can follow through, his dying will transform sin into salvation for Mary and whomever will accept his sacrifice. Whatever is old, or bad, is being transformed into something that is new and good. At 80% into the movie, on Golgotha, he struggles to crawl onto the cross, he wants it, but it is hard. He is nailed to the cross, lifted up, and at the end, he says simply, "It is accomplished." He doesn't mean his life is finished, although that is evident, he means that by accepting his wounds, his lashings, the mockery, the suffering, and the crucifixion... he has made eternal life possible for all others.

This is the arc of a hero. Filled with imperfections—in Jesus's case, the imperfections of others—he struggles to set others free. Structurally, this is what happens in BRAVEHEART, where Wallace gives his life to set Scotland free from the evil grip of King Edward I of England. You could say Gibson has a Jesus complex.


THE MORAL PREMISE
The Moral Premise of a successful story will be evident by studying the main plot and the subplots. By listing the main characters, what they are after (that is, their goals), and what they attain in the end, we can infer the filmmaker's intent and thus the movie's moral premise.

It is also worth noting that in a well rounded drama such as THE PASSION is, there is a variety of characters who work at cross purposes (or goals) to each other, and that their resolutions are as varied as are their subplots. If the analysis below is correct, the true protagonist would be the audience, since it is their sins and life (the stakes) that rests on the outcome of Jesus's decisions. Otherwise we have 1 Hero, 1 Antagonist, 3+ Antagonist Reflections, 1 Nemesis, 1 Faithless Reflection (+10 of his buddies), 1 Faithful Reflection, 2 Anchors, and 1 Protagonist.  Similarly we have a mix of redemptive, tragic, and ironic endings to the subplots. All of this makes for a balanced story with which many different people can identify.

JESUS (Jim Caviezel) - HERO 
Goal: To appease God the Father for humanity's sin through the sacrifice of his sinless body.
Resolution: Achieved. Arc: Redemptive
Discussion:  The audience reluctantly roots for Jesus's death, so that they may live. This is also like Frodo's goal in THE LROD OF THE RINGS, to sustain all manner of suffering and loss in order to take the ring of evil and throw it into the mountain of fire. In Jesus's case, his goal is to take the sting of evil, and crucify it on the cross. Jesus's divine nature is willing, but his human nature, his human body, has to suffer the consequences of achieving the goal.

PETER (Francesco De Vito)  and 9 of the other APOSTLES - FAITHLESS REFLECTIONS
Goal: Save their own skin.
Resolution: Achieved. Arc: Tragic.
Discussion: Peter betrays Jesus and is overcome with dread. The other Apostles except for Magdalene and John scatter and are in hiding. If Gibson produces the sequel, we will probably see the Apostles and Peter embracing a willingness to sacrifice their lives for the truth.




SATAN (Rosalinda Celentano) - ANTAGONIST
Goal: To stop Jesus for dying for humanity's sin.
Resolution: Defeated. Arc: Tragic
Discussion: Satan in its androgynous black robe is present from the first scene in the garden to the end, tempting Jesus directly, introducing motifs of snakes and monster babies, draping a pall over Mary, Peter, and perhaps most effectively possessing Judas, if not Herod and his entourage. It may also have been Satan who infected Claudia's dream, trying to influence Pilate to release Jesus and not crucify him. But in the final seconds, after Jesus dies, we see Satan, partially unrobed, in a hell of sorts, screaming bloody murder—defeated.

MARY MAGDALENE (Monica Bellucci) and JOHN THE APOSTLE (Christo Jivkov) - FAITHFUL REFLECTIONS
Goal: Stay loyal to Mother Mary regardless of the danger they may face.
Resolution: Achieved. Arc: Redemptive.
Discussion: At the crucifixion they recognize the fulfillment of Jesus's prophecies about himself and are filled with hope.




JUDAS ISCARIOT (Luca Lionello) - ANTAGONIST REFLECTION
Goal: Force Jesus's hand to establish his earthly kingdom and defeat the Roman Empire.
Resolution: Defeated. Arc: Tragic.
Discussion: Totally misunderstanding Jesus's mission, and being overcome with grief for betraying Jesus, Judas commits suicide. Not evident in the movie, but the underlying assumption is that Judas was interested only in his own aggrandizement and elevation in the earthly kingdom.



KING HEROD (Luca De Dominicis) - NEMESIS
Goal: Have Jesus entertain him.
Resolution: Defeated. Arc: Ironic.
Resolution: Jesus refuses and Herod is disappointed.








HIGH PRIEST CAIAPHAS (Mattia Sbragia) and most of the temple priests - ANTAGONIST REFLECTIONS
Goal: Kill Jesus (sacrifice him) so the temple will regain their influence with the people
Resolution: Defeated. Arc: Tragic.
Resolution:  With the death of Jesus, the temple is ripped asunder by an earthquake. (An act of God for insurance purposes.)






MOTHER MARY Maia Morgenstern) and VERONICA (not named) - HERO ANCHORS
Goal: Be loyal to Jesus and risk their own safety for his.
Resolution: Achieved. Arc: Redemptive.
Discussion: Both stand by Jesus in the most trying of times, and at the end Mary's heart is pierced, but she still loves him and trusts him. Veronica risks arrest and a beating to give Jesus comfort.

PONTIUS PILATE (Hristo Shopov) - ANTAGONIST REFLECTION
Goal: Kill Jesus (sacrifice him) to avoid a Jewish rebellion and his own life at Caesar's hand.
Resolution: Achieved. Arc: Ironic.
Discussion: Pilate had the power to release Jesus and save his life. But he feared the Jews would rebel, putting his life at risk because Caesar had warned him that the next blood shed might be his own.





SIMON OF CYRENE (Jarreth J. Merz) - STAND-IN PROTAGONIST
Goal: Help Jesus carry his cross to Golgotha
Resolution: Achieved. Arc: Redemptive.
Discussion: Simon is the only clear protagonist in the movie. Simon might otherwise be considered a minor character. But his character is the only one with a redemptive arc. At first he rejects the call to enter the special world of Act 2 and help Jesus carry his cross. But by the end, Simon does not want to leave Jesus's side and has to be chased off Golgotha by the Roman soldiers. I think Simon of Cyrene stands in for the audience, the real story protagonist.

THE AUDIENCE - THE REAL PROTAGONIST
Goal: To be redeemed by the work of Jesus.
Resolution: Achieved. Arc: Redemptive
Discussion: The audience roots for Jesus to die on the cross, so that their sins will be forgiven without them paying the just price for their sins. If there's any doubt about the audience playing a role in the movie, focus on the Pieta scene where Mother Mary breaks the 4th wall, like Gil Shepherd in  PURPLE ROSE, and invites us into the movie with her eyes. We are confirmed as the people who both caused Jesus's death (by our sin), and benefit from his death (by receiving redemption). That is our arc: from imperfect sinner to perfected through Christ's passion.

THE MORAL PREMISE

From that investigation into the main characters, I come up with this as the Moral Premise Statement. Perhaps you have a different one? Add yours in the comments.

Sacrificing others to save one's self (hatred) leads to dread and destruction; but
Sacrificing self to save others (love) leads to hope and life.


THE STORY BEATS

THE PASSION, excluding opening and closing credits is 118 minutes long.  Here are the 13+ major story beats with IDEAL and ACTUAL timings for the beginning of the Turning Points. The even numbered beats (moments or scenes) are the turning points or pinch points, whereas the odd number beats are the sequences which fill the gaps between the turning point beats.

The best way these beats make sense, I think, is to view Jesus as the anchor hero who takes on the audience's imperfections and works to transform them. Thus, the audience is sutured into Jesus's journey, as Jesus works to fulfill the audience's goal of redemption. Other movies do this, but I'm not sure of another story that subliminally does it as well. In other words, Jesus is the hero who leads the protagonist (the audience) to victory. Jesus's moral arc is very shallow, if it exists at all. But the audience's arc is deep. I'll attempt to aim my comments thus.

The Story Beats below are explained theoretically in depth in The Moral Premise book,
the Storycraft Training Workshop series and this blog post on the Major Beats of a Successful Story.


FADE IN: 00:00

1. LIFE BEFORE - Act 1A
JESUS PRAYS IN THE GARDEN and confronts Satan who understands enough of what's about to happen to dissuade Jesus from going through with it. But Jesus stomps on the temptation, symbolized by a sinister snake that tries to gain access to Jesus under his robe. Jesus has an arduous task ahead. While his antagonists want him dead, they don't realize that in his death there is redemption. This is the hook of the whole story...the contradiction of history—that the death of a perfect man can redeem the imperfect of all time and all places. And while Jesus concludes this sequence with his acquiescence to his coming sufferings, he does not commit suicide—it is required that he be killed by his oppressors. So, after Judas's kiss of betrayal,  a scuffle between Peter and the guards, the slicing off of Malchus' ear and its miraculous reattachment and healing, we are finally taken to the Inciting Incident that launches the movie on its downward (or upward) spiral.
From the audience's perspective: Have we been sleeping, like Peter and his companions, taking for granted the sleepless work that Jesus does on our behalf?
2. INCITING INCIDENT - Pinch Point A - (Ideal 14 .7 min / Actual 13.6 min)
JESUS IS SEIZED by the temple guards and beaten with the chains that shackle him. The Apostles scatter and run for their lives. Mary is startled awake in the night and John comes to confirm her fears.
From the audience's perspective:  We are called to go on a journey with Jesus and share in his passion and suffering. We thought this was a movie about a kind and loving man, we're not ready for the violence that these scenes promise. Would this be a good time to leave the theater or turn off the DVD?
3. REJECTION OF THE JOURNEY - Act 1B
JESUS IS HAULED OFF TO THE TEMPLE and inadvertently shoved over a bridge where he jerks at the end of his chain only to come face to face with Judas who is hiding in fear of facing Jesus. A demon escapes from the dirt near Judas. Jesus and the high priests process into the temple courtyard. Magdalene begs a Roman centurion to intercede. He doesn't, but sends a warning of trouble to Pilate. Mother Mary sees Jesus in chains and remarks, "It has begun. So be it." There is a trial of sorts, but Jesus refuses to answer Caiaphas's questions. Jesus is slapped about and threatened.
From the audience's perspective: We hate these soldiers. There's no reason to treat a man of peace with such abuse. And we dislike Judas. His being scared now doesn't make up for his betrayal. It would be okay by us if the roles were reversed and the soldiers fell off that bridge and were swallowed up by that sand demon. And the trial? Rigged! How can we reverse the roles? I don't like where this is going.
4. COMMITTING TO THE JOURNEY and CROSSING THE THRESHOLD - Act 1 Climax - Turning Point - (Ideal 29.5 min. / Actual 27.7 min.)
JESUS ANSERS CAIAPHAS'S QUESTION. Yes, he is the Messiah. "I am...and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Caiaphas tears open his robes at the "Blasphemy!" And the trial is over. 
From the audience's perspective: Is this what we're called to do? Tell people that Jesus is God and he's going to judge them? Whoa! Well, I'm glad to see that this scheming priest, Caiaphas, who wants Jesus killed, is being told the truth. Satan has gotten into this man of the cloth. But I sure wouldn't give him the time of day.
5. MOTIVATED BY VICE - Act 2A, Part 1
JESUS'S JUDGEMENT. Priests line up and either slap or spit in Jesus's face. Jesus is led away. Peter denies he knows Jesus, but when he catch's Jesus eye, Peter runs to Mother Mary and kneels before her in fear. Judas returns money to the priests. They refuse it. Judas is chased by children demons. He hangs himself. Jesus is led to Pontius Pilate's courtyard. Pilate and Caiaphas argue over Jesus. Pilate interviews Jesus, and asks, What is truth? Pilate returns with Jesus to Caiaphas and the crowd and declares Jesus innocent. Crowd jeers, threatens riot. Claudia, because of a dream, has warned Pontius not to have anything to do with Jesus, so Pilate sends Jesus to King Herod to adjudicate.
From the audience's perspective:  I wish Jesus would speak up and defend himself. I can understand why Judas was frustrated. Jesus seems to be passive. I'd want to take things into my own hands and not get shoved around. No patience for these people. 
5A. PINCH POINT B (in the middle of Act 2A) - (Ideal 44.25 min / Actual 44 min.)
JESUS BROUGHT BEFORE HEROD, who demands a miracle. Gets none. A new nemesis. It's clear that Satan has corrupted Herod's administration, such as it is.
From the audience's perspective: Pilate is civilized and rational compared to Herod. Reminds me of the people I know who claim to be spiritual but are just looking out for themselves. How can you love such hypocrites? 
5. MOTIVATED BY VICE, CONTINUED - Act 2A, Part 2.
Storyboard for Mel Gibson by Miles Teves
MORE HERE
CLAUDIA COMFORTS PILATE as he schemes to save his own scalp. Pilate's "truth" is that Caesar will shed Pilate's blood if there is another Jewish rebellion.  Jesus is brought back to Pilate. To placate the Jewish crowd, Pilate frees Barabbas. They want Jesus crucified. Pilate refuses, has Jesus flogged instead...severely. By his stripes we are healed.  Claudia brings linen purificators to Mary and Magdalene. Jesus is beat within an inch of his life. Even the centurion, Abenader, is shocked by the cruelty inflicted by the soldiers. He stops the beating.
From the audience's perspective:  I'm not sure I can watch much more of this. The violence is extreme. And Jesus says nothing, does nothing. He just takes the punishment. For what? Why? 
6. MOMENT OF GRACE (Turning Point) (Ideal 59 min. / Actual 62 min.)
In flashback Jesus washes the Apostle's feet, including Judas Iscariot's. "If the world hates you, remember that it has hated me first. Remember also that no servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. You must not be afraid. the Helper will come who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father." (John 15:18-25)
Before the Moment of Grace the onus for the good outcome of the movie is totally on Jesus. But at this point, with these words, the onus shifts slightly from Jesus to his Apostles...and the audience. Whereas Jesus is demonstrating his love for us, and will to the end of the movie, he now shifts the ultimate focus to us and how we must be willing to suffer and demonstrate sacrificial love for others.  
From the audience's perspective:  This is a hard saying. If we are less than Christ, if he is our master, then we can expect to be persecuted, perhaps even as Jesus was, and we're suppose to take it and say nothing.  Why? Paul's words while he was in prison, written to the Colossians 1:24 comes to mind: "Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of this body, which is the church." I'm not sure I understand what that means, but it sounds like the sufferings of Christ's passion took place out of love...could it be for the very people that were trying to torture and kill him? How can that be? I thought Christ suffered as it did so I don't have to? 
7. MOTIVATED BY VIRTUE - Act 2B, Part 1
JESUS IS DRAGED OUT, leaving behind a trail of blood. The Marys wipe up Jesus's blood with the purificators. Soldiers mock Jesus with crown of thrones and hit him with a reed stick. Mary and Magdalene wipe up more blood. Magdalene has flashback of Jesus saving her from being stoned—the men were willing to sacrifice Magdalene to save themselves, but Jesus reminds them they are as guilty as Magdalene. Jesus is brought back to Pilate's courtyard. "Behold the man." Crowd chants: "Crucify him!" Pilate begs Jesus to say something in his defense since Pilate has power over Jesus. But Jesus tells him. "You have no power over me except what is given to you from above." (Pilate knows this, but is thinking of Caesar's threat.) "It is he who delivered me to you who has the greater sin." Pilate washes his hands and tells Abenader to do as they wish.  Jesus is led to the street and his cross. Jesus hugs cross, "I am  your servant, Father...and the son of your handmaid." (Psalm 116:16)
From the audience's perspective: That last shot of Jesus hugging the cross and praying that he is his Father's servant is a bit much to swallow. He is doing this out of love for those that hate him. Come to think of it, even Mary somehow realized this was necessary when she whispered, "It has begun. So be it." God, how awful this is! That to demonstrate love for others...no, not to demonstrate but to actually love others, we must sacrifice ourselves? Like this? Why? Oh, yeah: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them...." (Luke 6:32)
7A. PINCH POINT C (in the middle of Act 2B) - (Ideal 73.7 min. / Actual 72 min.)
THE WAY OF THE CROSS. Jesus begins dragging his cross along the streets. He is jeered by the people. This is a new trial by the citizens who but five days earlier praised him on the same streets. The people have an arc—a tragic arc. 
From the audience's perspective: They don't get it. Here is Jesus, all bloody, to show his love for the very people who throw things at him and jeer. Of course, they think he's a common criminal. Can't blame them in a way. When we do good for people, yeah, sometimes they think we're doing it for another reason. But we have to keep our focus on doing what we know is right. Loving the unloveable is hard. 
7. MOTIVATED BY VIRTUE, CONTINUED - Act 2B, Part 2
The crowd stones Jesus, spits, mocks and shoves. Satan walks behind them—their influencer. Jesus falls again, Mary catches up and comforts him. He says, "See, Mother, I make all things news." Jesus falls again, can't go on.  Simon of Cyrene is recruited to help Jesus carry his cross. Simon at first refuses to help, but the soldiers compel him. Veronica brings water to Jesus. He blots his bloody face on her veil. She kisses the veil.  The people continue to mock and shove Jesus. Soldiers laugh and drink. Simon gets mad at all of them and defends Jesus. He claims unless they are more "civil" he won't carry the cross another foot; he doesn't care what they do to him. More of the crowd seems not to be mocking Jesus but weeping over him. Are they changing? Did Simon's sacrifice for Jesus have an effect on their attitudes?
From the audience's perspective: Simon seems to be something of a role model for me. He didn't want to be associated with Jesus's death walk at first. But now, bloody and no doubt bruised, we find him defending Jesus. Does he realize that Jesus, like himself are innocent? We like Simon for sticking up for Jesus, even to the soldiers who could easily kill him with impunity. Yeah, I want to be like Simon. I want to help carry that cross. 
 8. NEAR DEATH - Act 2 Climax - (Ideal 88.5 min. / Actual 88 min.)
Leaving the city gates, with Simon at this side, Golgotha, the place of the skulls, the killing field, is now in sight. Jesus falls again, he can't go on, might as well die right here. But Simon holds tight onto his arm. Simon helps Jesus up. "Almost there. We're nearly there," Simon says.
From the audience's perspective: Somethings are meant to be. Fate sometimes is ordained by history, and history by the force of nature. Yes, nature—acts of God. Simon seems to understand that Jesus's fate, and Simon's fate has been cast in history, long before this day's dawn. And somehow it's good that we're almost there. This excruciating sufferings, mockery, seemingly hopeless digression to our day and our life have a purpose—a good purpose, though known only to God. We have to help others up, face the challenges ahead, even the deadly ones. Just because it gets hard doesn't mean we should quit.
9. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL - Act 3A
Storyboard by Miles Teves
Jesus falls for the last time on Golgotha. Soldiers chase Simon off. Jesus (using his hands) crawls to the wooden cross and lays on it. Flashback to the Last Supper where Jesus takes bread in his hands and lays it on a wooden plank carved into a shallow bowl: "No greater love than a man lays down his life for this friends." Jesus is nailed to the wooden cross. Flashback Last Supper: "Take this and eat. This is my body which is given up for you..." and the cross is raised up...
From the audience's perspective: There it is again. But now I see it better. The glint in the executioner's eye as he pounds the nails through Jesus's hand. I'm killing you, but you're doing this for me, for my sin. 
10. FINAL INCIDENT - Pinch Point D - (Ideal 103 min. / Actual 102 min.)
The cross is raised up...and dropped hard into the hole.  John stands up. He now sees how this crucifixion, the raising of the Christ, was explained the night before during their Passover feast. Flashback to Last Supper: "Take and drink. This is my blood of the new covenant which is given for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."
From the audience's perspective:  Jesus did this for me, how much more do I have to be willing to sacrifice my life for others. I'm tempted all the time not to love others, not to give of my time and resources in the battle against sin. But then, there's that haunting, mystical verse Hebrews 12:4: "If your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Gadzooks! Guess not. I have a ways to go. 
11. FINAL BATTLE
When the cross drops we suddenly have the crucifix before us, but this is not a symbol  hanging above the altar in a church. It's rather the real sacrifice. This is the beginning of the end, the consecration during Mass of the bread and wine into the real presence, body and blood, of Jesus Christ. It's not the sacramental presence, it's the real presence. It is the most sacred of sequences in the movie and in recognition of this, Magdalene bows her head and pulls her cloak over her head in respect. Blood drips from the cross. The thieves, either side of him, argue. Caiaphas, riding on his ass, looks up at Jesus and tells him to come down off the cross if he's really the Messiah. The Christ suffers, dies slowly. Soldiers cast dice for his robe. A storm comes—wind, darkness. Priests and people scatter. Mary kisses Jesus feet. "I thirst." Jesus hands Mary over to John for care. 
From the audience's perspective:  Magdalene and John see it. Do I? I'm not sure. Mary has always seen it. This moment. The purpose of the angel Gabriel's visit years ago. Not complete. What will it mean to me. When I go to Mass, will I better understand the offering on the altar? Will I see the real presence of Christ in the host and cup? Will I tremble as Mary did on Golgotha?                                                                     
12. FINAL RESOLUTION - Act 3 Climax - (Ideal 116 min. / Actual 112 min.)
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and moments later, "It is accomplished.. Father into your hands..." A tear drop from heaven falls on the scene, creating an earthquake that shakes Pilate's house, and tears the temple in two, scaring Caiaphas and the other priests. The centurion overseeing the crucifixion takes off his helmet in respect to Jesus. And Satan, partly disrobed, kneels in a desert wasteland, and screams in agony.
From the audience's perspective: I pray that I am able, like Paul, to fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of this body, which is the church.       
13. LIFE AFTER (Denouement)
Jesus's body is taken from the cross and lies in Mary's arms with Joh,  Magdalene and the centurion kneeling at her side (a tableaux). She stares at the camera. It was your sin that did this. But it was his sacrifice that saves you from sin. We intercut to a pile of bloody nails and the crown of thrones. Then to black. Then to a large stone rolling open a grave. Bright sun. And Jesus, whole and healthy, except for holes in his hands, walks toward the light. 
From the audience's perspective: Yes, there is a reward. If only I can have a tiny bit of Christ's understanding and hope of the future. God help my unbelief. 
FADE OUT: 118 min.

Copyright © 2019 Stanley D. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Causes of a Bad Movie

HOW DO YOU TELL IF A BAD MOVIE IS THE RESULT OF POOR DIRECTING, ACTING, SCREEN WRITING, OR SOME OTHER REASON? That was the question on Quora. I dared an answer. But it was also a learning moment, so I'm editing it bit and posting it here.

To answer such a question we have to first rid it of equivocations.  What do we mean by "bad"? Is that a pejorative or a compliment?  Assuming it's a pejorative, what or who claimed the movie was bad? A critic? Box office gross? Awards season?  A niche audience?  Let's assume it's the box office. That means the movie did not connect with audiences, or it was poorly marketed.  But let's generally say that it was marketed well, but audiences refused to give it word of mouth promotion—yes, it was a bad movie. So, why was is DOA?

Let’s look at 7 reasons, any one of which can minimize a movie’s success or ‘add’ to its failure, but only one of these will kill it directly—(A) directing, (B) casting, (C) acting, (D) screen writing, (E) marketing, (F) distributing or (G) a poorly executed or false moral premise. (Moral Premise'ing.)

DISCLAIMER. Fully answering this question would require several big books or big film libraries...all of which have been written and rewritten. So, just the highlights, madam. 

A. POOR DIRECTING - This includes in order of importance: cast selection, interpretation of theme, character inter-dynamics, intra-and inter-scene rhythm…and 14 or 18 other things. The direction is bad if there is little cohesiveness and purposeful intent in the various artistic elements. Ask yourself: Q1: Does every artistic discipline support and compliment the others, or do they battle for thematic attention upstaging each other? Q2: When two characters interact do you see actors reading lines or two real people physically and emotionally interlocked? Q3: Is the blocking so staid that the actors's feet are nailed to the floor with 10 penny nails, or is the blocking clever enough to let the actors move naturally and yet the camera easily finds them without calling attention to itself? Q4: Are you taken out of the story because the actions are awkwardly motivated (Why did she do that?), or are you caught up in the story and unconscious of how the many artistic decisions compliment each other? If you identify with the characters as real people and are not distracted by the ancillary elements, it’s good directing. The more inconsistencies  that cause cognitive dissonance, the poorer the direction. Although direction effects EVERYTHING, if everything else works, poor direction alone will not kill a movie.

B. POOR CASTING - Good casting goes a long way to convince an audience that the characters are real people with real physical and emotional relationships. Good casting is noticed in the dynamics between cast members. The casting is good if you’re convinced the characters truly and deeply love or hate each other. Some of this is direction and some story. But good actors, well cast, will fall into deep, emotional relationships in front of the camera without much help from the director or the story. Why? Because a good cast figures such things out. Their emotions and words are truly the characters and not something they are pretending to be. This is why one of those rules of directing claims that 80% of the director’s job is casting.

C. POOR ACTING - Where “casting” is the inter-dynamics of the actors' reacting to other actors, "acting" is the intra-dynamics of the character interacting with the man layers of their character’s reality. The acting is good if you are convinced that actor is that character, and you cease to see the actor, and only see the multifaceted character. This is effected, of course, by direction, script, setting and casting), but the good actor will draw the audience into their inner-struggle regardless of all the rest. I’ve seen many movies where I anxiously await the next scene with such a character. While the rest of the elements are not convincing, THIS one actor is, and I’m swept away. To effect this, a good actor and a good director will work weeks or days before the shoot and ACTION the script. See ACTIONS: The Actor's Thesaurus

D. POOR SCREEN WRITING - The most important aspect of the screenplay is its moral premise, but I’ll discuss a bit later. Otherwise, a poor screenplay can be made better on the set by the director and the actors. A good director will have “actioned” the screenplay (as just mentioned above) with the actors long before the film is shot. By doing so, a bad screenplay can be made playable and even good. A poor screenplay is never the principal reason a movie is bad. Why? Because a good director and good actors will FIX the screenplay long before it’s shot. So, if the dialogue is stilted and unrealistic, you might say the screenplay was bad. But I’d lay the fault at the director’s and actor’s lap. The screenplay is only a guide. Unlike a famous playwright’s playbook, the screenplay is not sacred. Change it in pre-production, change it on the set, change it in the edit. Never blame a screenplay, even if it was terrible to begin with.

E. POOR MARKETING - There are many great movies that were terribly marketed and consequently were box office failures. Ed Solomon’s LEVITY is a good example—all star cast, great script, everything is great about this movie that no one found out about because the studio did not understand the theme, the hook, or how audiences would love it. A good indication that the marketing is bad is when the movie has A-list actors but has a weak opening weekend. If the movie is actually good, while there may be poor or little marketing, the movie will gain screens and notice every week it stays in theaters, and eventually it can become a hit. Poor marketing mismatches the hype with the actual story. If the hype is over blown or under whelming compared to the film, then blame the marketing. Marketing also involves exposure to distribution, which is next.

F. POOR DISTRIBUTION - If a distributor doesn’t believe in a good film, it will do terrible in its theatrical release, but it could be wonderful on TV and on VOD or DVD. (IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is an example.) It’s the whole idea of grocery shelf-space. A good product may consistently be shelved on the bottom shelf out of the consumer’s sight-line. Although the marketing and everything else may be good, sales may be bad because the consumer can’t find it. Ex: a national release film into all of 23 screens. Failure to get even a staged or platform theatrical release of a good film can kill it alone...but not forever.

G. POOR MORAL PREMISE -  Now this is the most important, if for no other reason that I wrote the book: The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, I host the Moral Premise on-line workshop at Storycraft Training, and there's a blog with hundreds of essays and illustrative posts.

The Moral Premise is a statement of opposing values and themes that drives the story's physical action. Characters' values inform their decisions, which precipitate actions. What happens next is out of the characters' control—that is, the actions result in a physical consequence determined by the nature of the universe or the nature of the personalities present in the other characters. In other words, actions do not occur without a character’s mind making a decision that results in an action, that result in nature taking its course.

If you come out of a movie and you have no idea what it was about, or you can’t follow the character’s value-based motivation, or if things happen to the characters that don’t jive with natural law.then the problem is a poor execution of a true and universal moral premise. Other symptoms of bad moral premises are too many themes that do not coalesce.

The moral premise, if wrongly constructed or poorly executed in a movie will kill a movie, even if every other element is “A” List. I know this because I’ve worked on A-list (everything) movies where they had the moral premise wrong... and we correctly predicted the film’s failure. Here’s the deal: The Moral Premise is a single statement of a story’s value-based thematic opposition and the resulting, natural law, physical consequences of the characters moral decisions. That means, nothing reasonable or logical happens in the story unless it's built around a true moral premise.

I’m not going to explain it all here...although I guess I'm trying.  That’s what the websites, the book, and the on-line training above are for. Ignore them at your peril.

The Moral Premise Statement effects E V E RY T H I N G is a story (every visual, every audio element, the casting, the art direction, the editing and the marketing.) If you get it right, even with mediocre everything else, the audience will likely connect with the story. If you get it wrong, even with a $120,000,000 budget, A-list actors and A-list director, etc and a $100,000,000 marketing budget the movie will fail.

Here’s the generic form of the moral premise statement that should effect every creative decision in a story:
[some moral vice] leads to [some physical detriment]; but
[some moral virtue] leads to [some physical betterment.]

Ex: Greed leads to isolation; but generosity leads to community.

Of course, there's some structure that's needed to make such a statement work well. (See: http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/search/label/13%20Major%20Beats )

In Brief:

  • The Moral Premise statement defines the arch for the movie’s emotional, moral, and physical spines. 
  • The opposing values (the virtue and the vice) need to be universal and truly opposites. 
  • The opposing physical consequences must be true to Natural Law. 
  • A character has control over the values they embrace, the decisions they make and the actions they take. 
  • A character has NO control over Natural Law and the consequences of their actions. 
  • Audiences subliminally understand both physical and psychological Natural Law.
  • You can’t force something that is not true to nature and keep your audience.
  • EVERY character struggles with the same universal moral premise, but in a different way. That is, there are various ways you can be greedy or generous.

If a movie delivers an A-List party of actors, directors, marketing, special effects, etc but does poorly at the box office, I will guarantee the problem was a false moral premise or one that was partially true but inconsistently applied. See also the three posts at this link: BOX OFFICE FAILURES THE REASONS WHY.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Storycraft Training Special - Free Episode

Dear Story Tellers and Mavens

Storycraft Training Special
FREE EPISODE

During February (2019) I'm offering an incentive to learn the Moral Premise concepts to all those who have been reluctant to crack my book The Moral Premise—the crux of successful storytelling since Plato, 2,500 years ago. Yes, it's been around that long...and yes, I know, my book came out only in 2006.

There are 3 (maybe 4) ways to learn this valuable concept and how to apply it in the many facets of your storytelling efforts.

a. Read the Book. (link)
b. Read over 200 of my blog posts.  (link)
c. Watch 10 episodes of Storycraft Training (7.5 hours in 20 videos).  (link)

But for February there's a short cut.

Watch Episode 3 for FREE
Program 3 - The Moral Premise Statement (35 min).
1. Go here: https://vimeo.com/314540516
You should be able to play it directly without a pass code. Let me know if it doesn't work. Stan@MoralPremise.com
This will allow you to stream the two videos that make up this Episode which totals 35 minutes.  A description of Episode 3 is below.

This SPECIAL will be good through March 1, 2019

Hopefully, you'll see the benefit of the entire training and purchase all 10 episodes (20 videos) and download them to your computer.  If you do, here's a further incentive.

PURCHASE THE PACKAGE for 25% OFF. 
Normally, $129.99, through February only $97.50.
1. Go here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/storycraft
2. Click on PURCHASE all
3. Use the Discount code: STC-219.

Description of the entire course is herehttp://storycrafttraining.blogspot.com/

Here's the description of Episode 3

The Moral Premise Storycraft Training series is designed for storytellers of all media and genres

Program 3: The Moral Premise Statement. This 35-minute training episode explains the organic basis of the Moral Premise Statement, how it is constructed, how it is used, and how it focuses all the creative elements in a movie, novel or play so all the plots and subplots are about one thing. We also show clips from two films as examples. Prerequisite Recommendation: Episodes 1-2.

SPECIFICALLY, this program covers:
-- Verisimilitude: The integration of 3 critical elements of all successful stories: (1) ironic characters, (2) an impossibility hook, and (3) value based psychological motivations of the characters.
-- Relationship between the two-story realities: The Psychological and Physical worlds.
-- How moral values and decisions precipitate actions.
-- How actions result in physical consequences
-- How physical consequences inform moral value
-- The theoretical and practical structure of the Moral Premise statement
-- How the Moral Premise Statement is often articulated in movies
-- How the Moral Premise Statement keeps the story focused on one thing.
-- How the Moral Premise Statement provides support for character arcs.
-- Capstone example and clips from Die Hard
-- The fifth secret of successful story telling: Consistent Application of the Moral Premise

Bless your storytelling:

Stan Williams


Friday, December 28, 2018

On Sophistry in Storytelling: "It's a Wonderful Life" - Atheist and Communist Propaganda?

YOUR STORIES REQUIRE VALID EVIDENCE AND ARGUMENTS

This post is primarily about appreciating valid evidence to back up your story's argument, or why some stories fail when their argument is false.

Second, it's about the perennial hit, "It's a Wonderful Life" (IAWL), and why many films never get a second "release" on life.

Third, I hope to encourage you to develop a story premise (i.e. the moral premise) that has a valid world view (i.e. a universal moral truth). If you don't the world will never connect with or view your story.

How do you know your moral premise is valid when you don't have the time for it to stand the test of time, as IAWL has done?  (1) There is prima facie evidence—first impressions by a third party. (2) There is, upon a test audience's reflection, an appreciation for the premise to contribute to social order—without social media depreciating your premise. (3) There is, upon further analysis, confirmation that your story's moral fabric does not fall apart at the seams.

Now, having said all that, there are obstructionists to such grand story schemes.

SOPHISTS

Sophists, you may remember from Greek history, were philosophers and teachers who bragged that they could teach anyone (esp. lawyers), to defend a false position as if it were true. Wikipedia puts it this way:
Sophist: A paid teacher of philosophy and rhetoric in ancient Greece, associated in popular thought with moral skepticism and specious reasoning.
Most politicians and all advertisers are sophists; and as you can readily observe that if the reasoning of an acquaintance is not sophist, then he or she is probably not an advertiser,  politician...or a lawyer.

AVOID A FALSE MORAL PREMISE -- OR A FALSE STORY YOU WILL TELL

Sophistry is what college debate teams learn to do in an effort to deconstruct what the other team claims to have learned. That is, debate teams are trained to argue either side of a position, even the immoral one -- as if the moral high ground is to use a false premise to win an invalid argument to defend a moral wrong, rather than use a true premise to win a valid argument to defend a moral good. This is what has crumbled the formerly firm foundation of our culture. Pundits, journalists, and politicians take pride in winning, regardless of the natural truth they lose in the process.

I heard a politician brag about how escalating and relentlessly repeating a lie about an opposing candidate was a "clever technique" her team used to convince the public of their "truth." The politician was resuscitating the heart beat of sophistry. To the sophist, alignment with nature matters less than the nature of alignment. "Truth" is the defeat of the opposition, whatever the cost.


SOPHISTRY WILL NOT WORK WHEN WRITING A STORY.

If we take this position in creating a story, however, we are guaranteed the loss of our audience that we have worked hard to keep.  Sophistry rings false with general audiences, because audiences subliminally know what is true. Although, if we choose a biased audience for the previews, we will believe the lie of their approval.

Case in point. Acquaintances of mine previewed their movie at the Toronto Film Festival, some years back. They won the audience award, and a major distributor, excited about its box office potential, picked up the movie. When they released the film, however, it hit the floor. No support. Why? Their premise did not align with the general audience's understanding of nature. The filmmakers traded natural truth for the sophist views of their supporters.  But what about the Toronto audience award, you ask? An investigation revealed that the audience in Toronto was anything but broad in constituency, but was rather stacked with the filmmaker's friends and supporters who had forced the filmmakers into the sophistic position.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE MADE HORRIBLE

I just came across a text book example of this in the form of a sophistic essay about a true to nature movie. It's a 2015 Christmas review from the New York Post by a writer whose tripe is that "It's A Wonderful Life" is atheist, communist propaganda. I guess that's why IAWL is so popular every Christmas—it's anti-Christmas—which is both a Christian and capitalist holiday—and we all see no credibility in either, so we watch IAWL to reinforce our atheistic, communist values.

BEFORE I FORGET, MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

I've written previously about IAWL HERE, in two posts (one an interview and one a review). I'll try to add to the discussion.

First, the sophist at the New York Post (back in 2015) declared that IAWL is a salute to atheism because God is not present in the movie. This is the argument from ignorance, that if you can't see something it must not exist. This is the conclusion he sees because "God" is not seen in the film. This makes sense to the sophist, because what is present must be said to be absent, and what is clear must be revealed as muddy. Frank Capra, the director has made George Bailey's "thoughts," "dreams" and "angels" visible, so it's logical that the sophist is required to say they can't be seen, and therefore do not exist. George whispers a prayer, but the sophist can't hear it. God sends an angel (Clarence), but the sophist claims God is not represented.  That is the job of sophist pundits who are required by some obscure sophistry to argue that what is good, true and beautiful is really bad, false, and ugly.

Second, our sophist NYP writer tells us that IAWL is commie propaganda because the bad guy is a rich banker. Let me repeat that: the BAD guy is a RICH BANKER. Therefore every banker is bad. Never mind that our hero is a poor banker who is good, and becomes all the richer for not wanting to be. The greatest wealth is not wanting it. But good capitalism relies on generosity and fairness not greed and hoarding. The sophist communists among us will try to convince us that capitalism is not good. But they equivocate. They claim what can be good and generous is bad and greedy. And, if they say it loud enough, enough will believe it. But a true moral premise will reveal (in real life as well as in fictional movies) that generosity generates business, but greed will kill a business.

Third, our sophist pundit claims that IAWL is anti-Christmas and therefore anti-Christian. But let me cut this long blog short. At it's heart IAWL is a Christian film, because it's hero sacrifices his selfish dream to save others, and in the end discovers true happiness through sacrificial love, not greed. And that is what the real meaning of Christmas is, about giving one's life and resources to save others, as Christ came to do.

So, far from being atheist,  communist, or anti-Christian, IAWL's moral premise reinforces theism, benevolent capitalism, and sacrificial giving.

The New York Post would have the moral premise of IAWL be:
Theism and Capitalism leads to loss of one's dreams; butAtheism and Communism leads to happiness.
But in fact, as I've argued in my other posts about IAWL, the moral premise is:
Selfish hoarding leads to a miserable life; butSacrificial giving leads to a wonderful life.
So forgive the rant, but you're much better off if you write about what is naturally true, good and beautiful and give audiences something natural to appreciate.

As Solanus Casey said: Appreciation is as necessary for social order and harmony as are the laws of gravity for the physical world.

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