Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sabriya of Shanghai

A Martial Arts Thriller

The specially skilled and statuesque wife of a British diplomat to China risks revealing her past in the sex industry and scandalizing Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service when she launches a daring night-time rescue of her secret son from ruthless organ harvesters.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Stan Speaking at Michigan Workshop - Oct. 5 (Sat)


On October 5 I'm speaking on The Moral Premise at 
The Path of Consciousness Spiritual and Writing Conference and Retreat.  

Talk Title: 
THE NATURAL LAWS OF SUCCESSFUL STORYTELLING: 
How the Hero Finds Healing on the Journey
(DESCRIPTION BELOW)
For more information, and to register, visit www.ThePathofConsciousness.com - See our VIDEO at https://youtu.be/NMsC4vHZnAY - Email: spiritualandwritingretreat@gmail.com and Phone: 586-231-6175
DESCRIPTION: In his one-hour workshop, Dr. Stan Williams will share with us the fundamental traits of all successful story telling that connect with film audiences and novel readers. These traits have everything to do with your hero’s journey of healing from weakness and vice, to strength and virtue. To some these are miracle remedies that through our characters provide mental, spiritual, and physical healing, not just to the characters we create, but also for the writer and the story consumer. You’ll learn about the importance of irony, struggle and conflict, and how we, along with our characters, can only heal ourselves by confronting and over coming conflict. Stan will also reveal to us the six story fundamentals or medicines the writer needs to internalize before even beginning to write. We’ll discover the five critical ingredients of a Log Line that cut through the thicket of the jungle and reveal the path we need to take as a writer, and that our hero must master. And most important to any holistic solution to our lives and to our character’s quest are how values drive action, and how the four ingredients of the moral premise statement will totally eliminate writers block, that illness that we all want to avoid.
BIO: Dr. Stan Williams is a veteran filmmaker and storyteller, having worked with dozens of Hollywood writers and producers over the years. His best selling story structure book was published in 2006 by Michale Wiese Books—the Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success. The mainstream films he has consultant on have grossed over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, for studios such as 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and Disney. Most notably he has worked directly with Will Smith on over a dozen projects. Find him at https://www.stanwilliams.com/ and http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/

THEPATHOFCONSCIOUSNESS.COM
Pray, Dream, Write Your New Story

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Story Diamond Notes

The Story Diamond continues to hold me in awe as a story brainstorming tool.

While it looks complicated, it's very simple and helpful in holding off writer's block, although it is no substitute for a well-formed and fell-fed imagination. 

Below is the latest edition of the annotated Story Diamond Notes file. You can download this HERE as a PDF. but some may find this browser edition helpful.



STORY DIAMOND NOTES
by Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D.
Introduction to the Story Diamond

The Barebones Diamond
In 2008, I was given a copy of an early version of The Story Diamond while working on a story with Will Smith, Chris Vogler, and Marianne and Cormac Wibberly. With their permission

Friday, August 23, 2019

TAKEN (2008) Insanely Great Endings

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Please welcome (The Other) Chris Pratt to the Moral Premise Blog. Chris is a veteran screenwriter and writer manager in Los Angeles.  During recent discussions we had about structure, in particular about Taken (2008), Chris offered up Michael Arndt's Pandemonium post on Insanely Great Endings, and then offered to write this blog post applying Arndt's perspective to Taken... for which I was greatly appreciative. 

Arndt's 100 page story map and his explanation of Insanely Great Endings fits nicely into the natural structure of story telling, so I tired to include his beats in the latest version of the story diamond. But I over did it—the Story Diamond is getting too off-putting with its apparent complexity; so look for future simplifications. But now on to Chris' insanely great post on Taken. — S.W.

TAKEN'S Insanely Great Ending
by
The Other Chris Pratt

Screenwriter Michael Arndt created Insanely Great Endings as a deep dive to help us  understand the emotional resonance of our greatest cinematic experiences. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here. What follows for Taken assumes you understand Arndt's story concepts.


Inspired by Stan Williams’ deep dive into Taken found here:


The following is a Michael Arndt-style analysis using his Insanely Great Endings method to analyze the 2008 hit film TAKEN. Here's Arndt's 100 page story map which will help us. Click on it for larger version.

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE - Michael Arndt's 100 page Story Map

Arndt opens with the idea that there’s an organic logic of storytelling. A sort of ‘Who, what, when, where?’ 

THE MAJOR BEATS

OPENING: In Taken, we begin with old home video footage of a little girl’s fifth birthday party. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) wakes up to a table side picture of the same girl, now a teenager. He’s already missed her childhood. 

ORDINARY WORLD: Daily Routine + introduce unresolved issue (could be an internal or external unresolved issue.) In a single scene, we establish the WORKING CLASS hero, his numerous trips to the electronics store to select the right gift for daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Rich people don’t visit the store multiple times, they have stuff delivered. Most people don’t read the instruction manual over and over before purchasing electronics. In a single scene we get A) Careful, B) Thorough and C) Thrifty. We don't see his unresolved issue until the BIRTHDAY PARTY at a big frickin’ house. Bryan’s EX married very well. We learn he wasn’t there for his daughter growing up. We see her stepfather can give her anything/everything she wants. Bryan’s time has passed, has his window to be her father has closed? She’s 17 and ‘Not a little girl anymore.’

THEN ONE DAY: 10% A bolt from the blue, lightning hits, changing sense of character’s self, who they are, and their sense of the future. Bryan’s friends, old CIA operatives, over BBQ and beers, we learn he was the best of the best and he’s not on the job anymore because he’s making a conscious choice to quit working and be closer to Kim. They pitch him on a job. He rejects the call, then accepts the call.

THE JOB: Bryan protects the POP STAR from a security threat, rescuing the first of three daughter figures in the film.

CALL TO ACTION: Kim is excited to join a friend on a trip to Paris, she asks her dad to let her go. He rejects the call to let Kim go to Europe is to let go of Kim, and he’s not ready to do that. Bryan then accepts the call, gives permission, and drives Kim to the airport. This is Bryan’s story. His arc. While he doesn’t go, he is still the active participant, crossing the threshold, he makes the decision to let her go.



EMBARKS: 25% On the quest, has a long range goal and a short term quest. Bryan calls Kim as her friend is kidnapped, his daughter taken, his now famous speech, “I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.” The only dialogue ever to appear on a movie poster. The pitch as a single line of script. Kudos to writers Kamen and Besson.

MIDPOINT SETBACK: 50% Something happens around the middle, rug pulled out from under him, has to find a new way. The midpoint has Bryan tracking the trafficked women to a construction zone where workers line up to rape drugged out victims. He finds his daughter’s jacket but no Kim. The traffickers discover him, and he begins to burn it all down. Before it was a story about a man pursuing his daughter, now he’s declared war.

NO RETURN: 75% No going back, trap door opens, total commitment. When he runs into a dead end, a name he doesn’t know, he turns to his contact in the French Government, Jean-Claude. Out of time, out of options, he shoots the man’s wife, threatening to kill her. No going back now.

CLIMAX: 90% Achieves goal or fails to achieve goal. Tracking his recently sold daughter to a boat, Bryan infiltrates the boat and kills… everyone, pretty much kills everyone.

STAKES OVERVIEW:

While many a guru would say there are two sets of stakes, internal and external, Arndt argues, to great effect, there are actually three sets of stakes. Internal, external, and philosophical stakes. See the breakdown below: 

What are the EXTERNAL STAKES in Taken? Save the girl. First, Bryan Mills makes the choice to save the POP STAR, while this isn’t his daughter, it is one of three daughter figures in the story. The bolt from the blue happens at the ten minute mark when Bryan is shaken from his complacent state of waiting for his daughter to return his love and becomes an active hero with the POP STAR. 

Who are the EXTERNAL STAKES antagonists? What scene introduces them? The kidnappers are the external antagonists, the scene introducing them takes place in the apartment, the moment they kidnap the girls. (You could argue the French Bureaucrat, Jean-Claude, is an external antagonist but he’s more of what John Truby would call a fake-ally opponent. He’s a philosophical antagonist for Bryan as explained below.)

Who is the EXTERNAL Mentor? What scene introduces them? Bryan’s friend and former special ops colleague, Sam. He’s got the call to exposition scene where he tells Bryan the who, what, when, where of the kidnappers M.O. and sets the ticking clock of 96 hours before Kim disappears. Forever.

What are your INTERNAL/EMOTIONAL STAKES? (Arndt says this could be parent child love, romantic love, self esteem, will my life matter, will I get out of here, will I even get a chance, call to greatness.) What scene introduces the EMOTIONAL stakes? Internally, this is a story about Bryan’s purpose. Will he connect with his daughter? Will his life matter now that his baby girl is all grown up? Can he let go? Is it better to keep his daughter protected and unaware of the world or let her experience it? On the way to the airport, Bryan describes his gov’t job as being ‘the preventer.’ Personally, this is a story about a father’s duty to protect his daughter vs. his paranoia and instinct for overprotectiveness. Should he prevent her from growing up by preventing her from harm? It starts with a ‘can he let her become a woman’ and ends with ‘sometimes you need your daddy’ which is genius. Split hairs. Have cake, eat too. 

Who is the INTERNAL/EMOTIONAL STAKES antagonist and what scene introduces them? (Arndt says Star Wars has Uncle Owen on some: “Kid, don’t get too big for your britches, harvest is when I need you the most, it’s only one more season.”) Bryan’s emotional antagonist is his ex-wife. She reminds him he was good at missing out, he wasn’t there for his family. She’s right about that, but is he too late? 

What scene introduces the EMOTIONAL mentor? (Star Wars has: “Kid I see something special in you.”) Taken has BBQ buddies. Bryan’s old team. The guys who know he’s the best of the best but “I hope she appreciates the fact you’ve given up your life to be closer to her?” For a BBQ beer scene with war buddies, that scene has a LOT of heart.

Also, during the car ride to the airport, Bryan’s inner compass is telling him she’s too young to go to Europe, he’s fighting the voice of his ex-wife, his daughter’s will, but that voice inside keeps guiding him. Bryan’s conscious is his training. “Mom says your work made you paranoid.” “Made me aware…” You’re not paranoid when the world is out to kidnap and sell your daughter into sexual slavery. 

What are the PHILOSOPHICAL STAKES? Those with money and power are just too strong, they will win out over justice. The philosophical antagonist is Jean-Claude, the French Bureaucrat. “That’s now how the world works.” When Bryan first arrives is Paris and seeks out his old friend, he’s told to go home. 

What is your underdog value? Father knows best.

What is your dominant value? Too late, she’s a grown woman.

Who is your GLOBAL ANTAGONIST? What SCENE lays out the Global Antagonist Aria? In Star Wars, General Tarkin says “Fear will keep the local systems in line.” In Taken we don’t get a big speech from the antagonist, when Bryan takes the phone and give his “I will find you and I will kill you…” speech, we simply get two words: “Good Luck.”
Whether a superhero or a dude with a problem, this dad has a way with phones.

 
What SCENE lays out the PERSONAL ANTAGONIST ARIA? Han Solo’s “Kid, I’ve flown from one end of this galaxy to another…” This speech attacks Luke’s personal journey, a journey into a much larger world, a journey into the force. Bryan’s personal journey is to matter, to be the father his daughter needs. Ex-wife Lenore reminding him, “You can’t smother Kim or you’ll lose her for sure.” In effect, end the quest to matter, give up on becoming the father your daughter needs.

List the DOMINANT vs. UNDERDOG GLOBAL values: The dominant global values are ruthless power wins, criminals take, can’t beat a corrupt system, might makes right, guns and power rule the day. The underdog values are freedom, justice, the American way. Dominant values are winning. “A few years ago there were twenty of them, now they have hundreds…” The police even get payoffs. Corruption, crime, drugs, kidnapping, slavery, the bad guys are winning.

What SCENE lays out the GLOBAL MENTOR ARIA? Star Wars has Obi Wan saying; “You must deliver these droids to Alderaan.” Taken has Bryan’s friend Sam saying, “You have 96 hours before she’s gone. Forever.”

What SCENE lays out the personal Mentor Aria? Obi Wan also says; “You must come with me and learn the ways of the force.” Bryan’s BBQ buddies ask if Kim understands he’s given up his work, his old life, to move and be closer to her, to be the father he’s always wanted to be. “You lose her to college next year.” “Still gives me a year.”

List the dominant vs. underdog PERSONAL values: Dominant personal values; it’s too late, you missed out, she’s grown up, she doesn’t need her father, you missed your shot, you don’t matter, your life doesn’t matter. The underdog personal values; only you know what the world is capable of, you have skills bro, you see what others can’t, you do matter, you can be the father she needs. These are underdog values because the whole movie, people keep telling him, ‘Naw brah, let her go.”

Structure TIP:
Act 1 Antagonist Aria (dominant value) is “I will find you, I will kill you.” “Good luck.” Dominant value is the odds of finding kidnappers... normal people don’t have a chance, special set of skills or not.

Structure TIP
All is lost in Act 2, the ALLY chooses the dominant value, betrays the hero. The French Bureaucrat Jean-Claude is the fake-ally opponent who choses illegal payoffs over his friendship with Bryan. This is the setup/payoff Antagonist Philosophical Dominant Value, or money/power wins over justice. Han Solo’s betrayal, all is lost in Star Wars; “I’m not sticking around to help you face the death star, Kid.” Our all is lost betrayal is when Jean-Claude holds Bryan at gunpoint, “I’m taking you to the airport right now.” “What about my family?” 

What are the two competing value systems at play in the PHILOSOPHICAL STAKES? Bryan believes in American justice. Preventing the big bad is how he sees himself. The world is full of big and bad, but he won’t buy in. “I reject your hypothesis.”

Scene Breakdown Checklist:

What is your opening image? Bryan’s dream; a 5 year old girl’s birthday party.

What is the equilibrium for your world? Bryan was busy working for the gov’t, wasn’t there for his daughter. She’s grown.

Is your character flawed or is your world flawed? The world is flawed. (Bryan doesn’t change.) [He's a hero. See Hero vs. Protagonist.]

How is your character’s future fixed? He is trying to earn the right to be Kim’s father but because he was never there, she’s grown up without him. He’s moved to be near her but hasn’t really been invited into her life. So he waits. This is his fixed future.

How is this the stable self image? Retired. Waiting. His skills got him all dressed up with no place to go.

10% What is your bolt from the blue? Kim is invited to Paris.

How does that incident change your character’s future? Accepting that she’s growing up, becoming a woman, leaving him… tough. 

How does it change their sense of self? He realizes she doesn’t need him, she needs his signature on the permission slip.

How is this the worst possible thing to happen to them? He’s moved to be near her. This is the opposite of what he came here to do. It’s game over, man. 

Is there insult to injury? She lies to him about the trip, where she’s going, and why. Touring Europe to follow U2 instead of hitting museums in Paris. She doesn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth.

25% What first act break? Phone call. “Special set of skills…”

How does that mini-arc pay off at Act 2 all lost (problem A)? Act 2 he finds Marco, and kills him. Solves problem A.

How does your character embark on the journey? Literally. He charters the jet and hops a round trip LAX to CDG.

50% What is the midpoint setback? He finds Kim’s jacket but no Kim. The girl wearing it is drugged so he rescues her -- the second ‘daughter’ rescue.

How is the midpoint setback a reversal? How does it change directions? Escalation. Instead of a detective asking questions, he’s kinda the punisher now. High speed chases and explosions. He’s on everybody’s radar.

How does the midpoint reversal deepen the stakes? This won’t be a quiet extraction, he’s facing a criminal organization and he might have to burn it to the ground.

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE - Michael Arndt's ACT 3 Breakdown

75% All is lost? Dead end. He’s found Kim’s friend Amanda, dead. Kim isn’t there so he tortures bad guy MARCO but only gets a name. He can’t do jack with a name.

How does this crisis force the stakes? Bryan has to go back to fake ally-opponent and confront him with his own corruption.

How does it solve Problem A? Marco is dead. Bryan did find him and Bryan did kill him. Makes you wonder if the guy shouldn’t have wished him ‘good luck.’ 

How does it force Problem B? Bryan gets a name, but with no way to track it he’s forced to turn to Jean-Claude. 

How is the character headed toward a waterfall? He shoots Jean-Claude's wife to get the info. No return, as they say. Now he’s screwed with the French police, screwed with the underworld, burning everything as he goes leaves him without friends/allies. 

List Act 3 external setbacks toward the ending? Rescued girl is passed out, arrives at the bad guys but can’t identify Marco, Kim’s friend is dead, no Kim, tortures Marco but gets a useless name, Jean-Claude is no help, shoots his wife, finds Kim but is captured before rescue, hanging from pipe he’s ordered killed, daughter is on a boat, leaving. 

List Act 3 internal setbacks toward the ending? Bryan’s not there for her. Even when he finds the stash house with the girls, even when he kills the bad guys, he can’t find her, he can’t save her, he won’t matter in her life, once again, he’s not there when she needs him.

What are the philosophical setbacks? More money, more guns, more power, the further he goes the greater the opposing forces. This isn’t some local Armenian mob, this is upper echelon society with deep pockets and resources. Up against more than nameless, faceless Albanian sex traffickers, these are nameless, faceless rich people too. He finds his daughter but someone buys her. He’s captured by better killers with more training. A rich Sheik with professional security has his daughter. Philosophically money and power are winning.

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE - Michael Arndt's Two Minute Climax Breakdown


What is our Hero’s Kamikaze moment of commitment? Jumping onto the boat. 

How does the Hero listen to the mentor? The inner voice that says… let’s do this.

How does the hero choose the underdog value against their own self interest? He could die on that boat but to find Kim, to rescue her is worth the risk.

How does choosing this APPEAR to be an external failure, an internal failure, and a philosophical failure? He hurts himself on the leap, limping through the next sequence, he gets shot by BIG BAD, he gets stabbed, he’s thrown through glass… (Note: Nice little callback here, the knife from the first daughter POP STAR rescue is mirrored by the final knife fight.)

Leading to what moment of despair? Bursting into the room, the Sheik has his daughter at knife-point. Oh, no. He’s failed, he’s going to lose everything.

What is the decisive act our hero chooses? BLAM. He fires, killing the man instantly.

How does the ACT (not a speech) embrace the underdog values? Money and power did not win out over justice. The man says “We can negotiate-” BOOM, negotiation over.

How does it lead to external success, internal success, and philosophical success? Externally, he’s rescued Kim, saved the girl. Internally, he is the father she needs, he matters, he is connecting with her and philosophically, American justice wins out over the money and power of a corrupt world. We go from total loss to total victory in the final sequence leading to an Insanely Great Ending.