Thursday, December 6, 2012

Great Stories - True Premises

I lead a bifurcated life when it comes to the types of projects I work on. I find my greatest satisfaction in structuring and writing stories for myself and for my clients. My wife, Pam, and I consume a great many movies and  novels; and we're mesmerized by the integrity the best stories have with respect to a true and consistently applied moral premise that informs the metaphors used to do the story telling.

But the other side of my creative life, has been involved in helping others produce very didactic series for Catholic television. Yes, we're talking about "talking heads" here. There are times when I don't want anyone to know that I write, produce, direct, edit and distribute such stuff. Not because I don't believe in the messages that the series contain, because I do believe in them. I'm a devout Roman Catholic who loves the Church's teachings. But I am convinced that didactic presentations DO NOT engage audiences very well, nor do they pass on values from generation to generation as well as stories do. But the didactic stuff does explain WHY and WHAT is going on in a psychological and spiritual sense in our lives, and in the lives of characters in stories with true moral premises.

One such connection occurred to me this morning as I was writing collateral materials for a Bible Study series on the Epistle of James that I'm preparing for broadcast. The particular Bible passage that applies to storytelling so well is this:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (NAB, James 1:2-4)

This passage hits the nail on the head with what we try to do --- or rather, what we MUST DO as storytellers. Our protagonist wants to reach the goal, but to do so our hero must traverse through myriad of trials and sufferings. Why do we drag our heroes through all of that? One answer is because in real life we are dragged through it all. The tests we put our hero through (as well as the trials we go through as humans) will teach our hero (and us) about life. Experience is the best teacher, after all. And simulations (movies) are a close second. Hopefully, in a redemptive story, the hero will persevere through the bad stuff, in the process learn something important, so that the end result will be near perfect and complete -- and goal of the story achieved.

For the protagonist the "faith" is their belief in the truth of the moral premise. Yet, for them to really, truly believe the truth of the moral premise, we have to take them through hellfire and brimstone, (the testing of their faith as gold is refined with fire), before they get enough sense knocked into them to learn how to navigate life, latch onto what's really important,  develop the nerve to remove their mask of "unbelief," and risk all to persevere through Act 3 to the goal.

And if our heroes persevere through all that, they can be joyous. Thus, great stories are about characters that learn something that is greater than themselves and persevere against great odds to bring that truth home to themselves and those around them....including us in the theater.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mary Connealy's MP Gift Basket

A Shout Out of thanks to prolific author Mary Connealy for using the Moral Premise as the center piece of a workshop she presented at her local writer's group in Nebraska. I was introduced to Mary's books when I was preparing to give the pre-conference workshop at the American Christian Fiction Writer's Conference in 2011. Authors who were interested sent me copies of their novels and I read them (a bunch) before the workshop. Mary writes "Romantic Comedy with Cowboys" and she's very good at it. I thorough enjoyed two of her books, smiling and crying all the way through the craziness she comes up with. Mary is also a member of the Seekerville Writer's Group (the Seekers) for whom I've guest blogged a couple times in the past. Thanks, Mary. Keep up the wonderful gift you have.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Story Diamond 4-ft x 8-ft

Making the story diamond work in a practical sense as always been a problem, when you extrapolate or beat out the story and identify all the various scenes that have to be strung together. There just isn't enough room on the computer screen (so you can see everything at once), or on a 6-ft double door wall. Besides, with the doorway, it's hard to read the little cards on the inside with a 100w incandescent bulb, when everything outside is lite by the sun.

So, for a current project I purchased a 4-ft x 8-ft sheet of Masonite, mounted it on 1" PVC pipe, and put fixed position casters on the bottom so it would slide back and forth in front of a bookcase behind my desk, but not fore and aft. (so I can get to the books).

Here's a picture of the entire story beat out with all the major scenes summarized on small pieces of paper or cards. (Don't bother trying to read it. It's for a private client and the resolution is such that nothing is readable.)

I'm now in the process of taking each scene summary and writing out the treatment. The outline of the diamond is string stretched across the front and taped to the PVC pipe behind. The "cards" outside the string are the character goal cards and inner psychological beats, and the cards inside the outline are the actual scene/sequence descriptions. At the top of each scene card is a traditional slug line in reverse type. I realize now that I have this backwards. The inner beats (psychological goals) should be on the INSIDE of the diamond, and the external-physical beats (physical action) should be on the OUTSIDE of the diamond.

In the picture, Act 3 appears to be better developed, and it is when I took this picture. I started with the end in mind, and then worked the foreshadowing structure and beats back into Acts 1 and 2. (Begin with the end in mind.) As I write out the treatment it's clear that things have to changed, so I just move the pieces of paper around.

These scene summaries are written in a table on Word, printed on regular 20# paper or 3x5 card stock, cut down to size, and then I smear the back with Elmer's Repositionable Picture and Poster Stick. If you let the glue dry for a minute before putting the paper or card stock on the Masonite, the scenes are indefinitely repositionable.

I had to take this picture outside my office door wall because I could not get back far enough in my office to photograph the whole thing at once. Now, where to store this baby????

A full explanation of the Story Diamond is presented in my On-Line Storycraft Training series.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Great Movies or Stories are about...

Great stories are about 
who stand for something
even if they don't know what they're doing, 
but even more so if they do.

I just reread an old Reader's Digest article by John Culhane, Where Great Movies Come From. I don't think it told me, but it did suggest that the great movies (and stories) are about things bigger than the characters -- good value, and to achieve those noble intends sacrifices are welcome.

To quote Culhane:
Critically acclaimed, financially successful and widely honored films are about universal values, that reflect the basic good in people: hard work, self respect, love of family, friends, community and God.

'Such films show us,' says director Mark Rydell, 'how the individual can make a difference—in his own life and the lives of others. ' 
'One of their messages,' says John Avildsen (director of ROCKY), 'is that  ordinary individuals are capable of extraordinary acts.'
The article discusses four films that do this:
...and how studios rejected the scripts and even the films for distribution after they were made, because the stories did not fit the supposed mold for commercial success. Yet all were very successful.

I am hoping for more visionary investors who see the financial sense of relatively small independent films that can change hearts and be a box office success.

To do that, as writers, producers, and directors, we have to develop stories about characters that stand for something bigger than themselves, against all odds.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Queries and Pitches, Do's and Don'ts

Google QUERY LETTERS for more
In the past week I was the keynoter at a local writers conference, which is always a joy for me because I get to meet other writers and hear story pitches and the wonderful ideas floating around in the minds of creative types.

A day or two before, a taped television interview of my appearance on Episode 6 of Living Right with Dr. Ray, was aired on EWTN. In that segment, in part, I discuss The Moral Premise and how filmmakers engender stories with themes and what they mean to families. (They have me listed as "Steve Williams" on the episode list, I see.)

As a result of the on-air appearance, as expected, I get some emails with pitches and queries... which prompts me now to make a few comments about sending queries to filmmakers and others.

When you want to send a query, here are some tips.

1. ASK FIRST if the person accepts queries. Save us both some time. In my case, I very rarely produce other people's creative works. I have no funding in place to produce my own stuff, let alone the work of others.... even when the work of others is better than my own. I have attempted from time to time to put together a funding package to produce a slate of films, but I'm not there.... yet. So, I don't accept queries.

If the person you're wanting to query says "Yes" to the above question, then...and only then:

2. WRITE A SHORT PROFESSIONAL QUERY. Your query email or letter should include three VERY short paragraphs, under the RE heading: "QUERY" -- and after the salutation in which you WILL spell the person's name right. ONLY include relevant information to the work you're pitching.
Paragraph 1: State the purpose of the query and what prompted you to write. "Dear Small Time Producer. // Thank you for speaking with me Saturday at the Writer's conference. Below is a log line for my completed romantic comedy screenplay, BREAKING IN, which has my bosses daughter attached to play the lead; you may have heard of her, "ANGELICA BEARTRAP."

Paragraph 2: The Log Line. "A desperate wannabe novelist battles the gatekeepers of a famous editor by breaking into the editor's office to put her manuscript on the top of the editor's pile with cleverly written faux coverage. Unbeknownst to the desperate writer, the editor is a nigh owl who returns to her office to find the writer caught by and flailing from from the ceiling fan like a monstrous mobile."

Paragraph 3: No more than 25 word bio of your professional credits. You can add another 25 words if someone of note has said something good about your writing, not your cooking, or your good looks, or how nice your mother is.
And sign off with your phone number.

When writing...don't be presumptuous.
  • Make any judgement about the quality of the story or your writing. That you're willing to submit anything to another person for review means you think it's good.
  • Make no judgement or recommendation about how well the story/movie/novel will do in the marketplace. Why? Because you don't know. Really, no one knows. As Bill O'Reilly would say, "When writing... don't be presumptuous."
  • Use any graphics, or emotion-cons, creative use of typography, asides, pictures.
  • Make casting suggestions
  • Relay how much your mother loved it. If she was like most mothers she wiped your butt as a kid and didn't complain. 
  • Mention any irrelevant connections.... like your religious faith,  unless you're pitching a story about that faith.  (I'm Catholic. I hear from other Catholics or Christians that want to pitch something to me because they believe I'll be receptive to them because they're Catholic. Honestly, when their Catholic affiliation is mentioned I'm turned off. Why? Because I have not met that many good Catholic writers, and the ones I have met are generally presumptuous about their craft on account of their faith. Believe me, in this world, in this country, at this time in history, THERE IS NO SUCH RELATIONSHIP... although there should be.
  • That you have proofed your query email or letter several times. Obviously typos (like I usally make) suggest that you're unprofessional.
  • That the work you are offering is yours to offer. That is it is your OWN creative work, or you OWN the copyright and the right to pedal its sale. Don't say so, but if you do not own the work completely, be sure that will kill any sale in the next steps. It will also poison your future relationship with the contact.
  • That you will follow industry rules of order in registering the copyright and the work with the Writer's Guild of America (if it's a screenplay). Don't bother mentioning this, but be sure that if you don't, you won't make a sale.
  • It is assumed that the work is properly formatted. Don't bother saying so.  But be sure that if it isn't, you won't make the sale.
  • You have the sense to follow professional etiquette and protocol. If you don't, you won't sell anything today or in the future.
  • A good story
  • Well-told
  • Professionally (i.e. respect for industry protocol, which can be learned from the many books on the topic. And here's one I recommend from my friend Michael Hauge: SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rochester Writer's Conference Keynote


I've been asked to delivery the keynote at the Rochester Writer's Conference Oct 20, 1012, which will be held in the Oakland Center at Oakland University, Rochester, MI. Here's a LINK to their site with registration information.

To assist in founder's Michael Dwyer's promotion below you'll find a description of my talk just after lunch.

Session Slides Download:
Greyscale PDF Slides (6 up)
Color PDF Slides (1 up)

Session Title:
THE TOP 21 SECRETS OF STORY SUCCESS, based on his Hollywood Story Structure book: "The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success."

Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D., Hollywood Story Consultant, Filmmaker, Writer, Publisher-Distributor
(Bio below)

General Description:
At the heart of all successful stories (whether they be short-stories, novels, plays or motion pictures) is a foundational concept that Will Smith calls “the most powerful tool in my new toolbox.” Modern research has shown that if you ignore this concept and its interrelated secrets your story is doomed. But if you consistently apply them to each character, each scene, and each dramatic beat of your tale -- your storytelling will be empowered, you’ll connect with your audience, and all the other techniques you bring to the craft will shine and fall into place. As historic and fundamental as these basic concepts are, some have become lost secrets. It’s not uncommon in story meetings to hear exclamations like, “Oh, I knew you were going to ask that” or “How could we have forgotten such a critical idea this late in the game?” Don’t be caught unawares. Follow these rules and you have a chance.  Here’s a bonus promise: Apply this concept and its ancient corollaries to your writing, and writer’s block is guaranteed to disappear.

In this 1-hour seminar you will learn the most fundamental elements of all successful story structure used in motion picture screenplays, stage plays, novels, and short stories. The talk is supplemented with graphic slides and movie clips. Blubs of what others have said about the seminar/workshop can be found at http://www.moralpremise.come - where you can also by the book and read it beforehand.  Books will be available onsite.

Narrative writers of all media will find this session beneficial, if not foundational. If you're a writer this session will give you a practical understanding of the crux of all story telling — the psychological motivation that centrally controls all character's values, actions, and consequences, and keeps the story focused on one thing. It's called the moral premise and it's been around since the beginning of storytelling. Knowing the moral premise of your tale will speed along and improve the quality of your story's structure and writing. In many ways the moral premise is a powerful muse; when used correctly it will inspire and focus your efforts, and powerfully connect you with your audience. Say "Good-bye" to writer's block.

(Depending on how fast I can talk, I'll expand or shrink the following outline. There will be time for Q&A afterwards, and I'll be hanging around the conference most of the day for informal consultations and conversation.)

•    The Purpose of Story
•    What Makes a Story True
•    The Physical vs. The Psychological Storyline
•    Natural Law and Stories - Cause & Effect
•    How the Moral Premise Unites Physical & Psychological
•    True vs. False Moral Premises
•    Box Office Correlation
•    The Protagonist's Moral Decisions
•    Conflict of Values - Story's Dramatic Thrust
•    Virtue vs. Vice

•    General Form of the Moral Premise
•    Connecting Vice, Virtue, and Consequences
•    Physical Effects - Psychological Cause
•    The MP in LIAR! LIAR!
•    The MP in DIE HARD
•    The MP Arc in DIE HARD (Clip)
•    The MP in THE INCREDIBLES (Clip)

•    Where the MP is Recognized
•    The All Important Midpoint of Act 2
•    MOG Determines the Story's End
•    MOG in LIAR! LIAR! (Clip)

•    Consistent Application in All Crafts
•    Protagonist Must Make Moral Decision
•    13 Steps in 3 Acts
•    Act 1 Climax RATATOUILLE (Clip)
•    Act 3 Climax RATATOUILLE (Clip)

•    All Vice contains a Virtue
•    All Virtue contains a Vice
•    Dramatic Thrust from Both Ends

•    5 Acts - A. F. Purchase Model
•    7 Acts - Stages of Greif
•    12 Stages - The Mythic Hero
•    15 Beats - Blake Snyder (BS2)
•    Combination Beat Chart

Dr. Stan Williams is a novel and screenplay consultant for accounts in Los Angeles and across the country. His best-known client is the actor-producer Will Smith with whom Stan and worked since 2008 on over a dozen of Smith's projects. Stan is an author, writer, speaker, and an international award-winning corporate and entertainment media producer. Since 1972, he has executive produced, directed, written, or distributed hundreds of video, film, television and interactive projects, some with world-wide distribution. Prior to his involvement in the film industry he headed up the business and creative effort at several agencies for major accounts at Ford Motor, General Motors, Chrysler Corporation, and Harley-Davidson. He also spent three years training astronauts in Houston. His screenplay structure book is The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, published by Michael Wiese Productions. Essays, reviews and blurbs of Stan's work, writings, blogs, and workshops can be found at

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TMP at Seekerville

I spent yesterday contributing to the com box at Seekerville, an active blog site managed by a group of novelists. As I was two years ago this time, I was invited to guest blog and answer questions about The Moral Premise.

It was a long post, especially as friend, client, and best selling author Tamera Alexander agreed to let me interview her. Tamera also went beyond the calling and embedded a YouTube video about how she uses TMP in her writing, of which I'm most grateful.

As of a few minutes ago there were 109 comments, which are viewable at the bottom of the post.


I'm sorry I haven't posted in a long time. I've been exec. producing a short film for my teen Story Symposium students (which occupied most of August), and in mid-July I shot a television series, that now I am editing, probably through October.

Friday, July 27, 2012

George Lucas in Love

One of the best "student films" (it's actually not) I've ever seen is Joe Nussbaum's parody GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE. I use this in all my story classes. In only 8 minutes it encapsulates a perfect moral premise, a great arc for the protagonist, uses metaphor, and is just plain funny. One of its geniuses was the filmmakers ability to get a cast that  actually looks like the characters they are parodying.Can you figure out the moral premise? In fact, the Moment of Grace SCENE is structured with 13 beats just like a full length movie.  Simply amazing story work and production. Thank you Joe Nussbaum and team. (See the Making Of....) below  the movie link.

Here's the Making of Interviews, one of two "Making Of GLIL" I know of.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

HITCH - A Moral Premise Analysis

Director: Andy Tennant
Writer: Kevin Bisch
Budget: 70MM, Domestic Gross 177MM
Gene: Romantic Comedy
LogLine: A secretive "date doctor," Hitch, struggles to find his game when smitten by a gossip columnist, Sara.

WILL SMITH - Alex 'Hitch" Hitchens
EVA MENDES - Sara Melas
KEVIN JAMES - Albert Brennaman
JULIE ANN EMERY - Casey Sedgewick (Sara's friend)
ADAM ARKIN - Max (Sara's boss)

As in road stories and buddy movies, Romantic Comedies match-up a man and a woman as both protagonist (of their own story) and antagonist to the other's story. Usually one or the other ends up being the lead, but in HITCH things are well matched. In the interest of space and time, this analysis will focus mostly on Hitch and the 13 MAJOR BEATS discussed elsewhere in this blog and various other books, including The Moral Premise.

1. Life Before:
We begin with Hitch lecturing us on the principles behind male-female relationships. He's telling us the secrets of his success as a date doctor.

And, we discover that Hitch and Sara are happily single and that they have their reasons. Notice that neither of them think they WANT a significant other in their lives. Yet, we can see they both do need someone in their lives. They're incomplete. Notice also that their jobs are as opposed to any union as are their personalities. She tells secrets (she's a gossip columnist with a name to promote), he keeps secrets (he's a date doctor with no name). This sets up the Nicomachean moral premise for HITCH:

(The vice) Keeping too many secrets or exposing too many secrets
leads to
(The negative consequence) distrust and isolation; but
(The virtue) Sharing the truth in confidence
leads to
(the positive consequence) trust and companionship.

Hitch lives at the absence of the virtue (he doesn't share much of anything). Sara lives at the excess of the virtue (she shares everything). She spills the beans; he hides them. She thinks men hate women, he only works with men who love women. Hitch is trying to get men and women together, Sara is excited about helping them to split up.

Notice also during this sequence of Act 1A it's made clear to us that they are two people that have "convinced" themselves that they don't need another. Hitch is wrapped up in helping guys succeed with girls while telling his brother-in-law that such relationships are not "meant of everybody." And Sara makes it clear "I don't have time for a boyfriend."

2. Inciting Incident
Hitch discovers is challenged to hit on a girl in a bar. He goes home without her, however.  (Ideal 14 min. Actual 12)

3. Hitch Rejects the Journey...
...of going after a girl (the journey he's called to at 2.) He embraces the idea that with "no guile, and no game, there's no girl." But we sense he's unhappy about that. Yet he helps Albert, who is born without a game. (At 19 min Hitch decides to help Albert on his journey, and in that process we hear arguments that suggest Hitch should go on a journey for himself. One such line that reflects that happened at the Inciting Incident is Albert telling Hitch, "You know what it's like getting up every morning feeling hopeless?"

As soon as Hitch gets Albert to first base (and a first date with Allegra) we can now introduce Sara to Hitch. It begins at 26 minutes when Hitch notices Sara in the bar.

4. Act 1 Climax. 
Hitch crosses the bar (foreshadowing the threshold of the following scene) and approaches Sara with drinks in hand, only to be beaten by an amateur pickup artist that Hitch confronts and dismisses. He gets to know Sara a little bit (that she's a "gossip columnist at the Standard" but he keeps his real job ("consultant") a secret. (Ideal 28 min, Actual 28 when he first speaks to Sara. We see Hitch's game on in this scene, and a very different game that he uses on Sara in Act 3.  

5. Act 2A - Using the Negative side of the Moral Premise but Not Getting Anywhere.
Hitch goes after Sara, crossing the courtship threshold for real, using the negative side of the moral premise... keeping from Sara who he is or what he does. But he gives Munson his business card, which eventually will break open the veil of secrecy and doom him at the end of Act 2.) He pursues Sara, but there are secrets that don't make their courtship that successful, like who Sara's Great, great, great grandfather was "The Butcher" (it's a reverse of the secret he kept from her and she returns the favor by revealing a bit ore about her family secrets. Bummer!) Had Hitch told Sara where they were going, she might have mentioned ahead of time her relative The Butcher and who he really was, thus saving Hitch's game plan from grand embarrassment on the island. Nonetheless, Hitch assumes his principles of male-female relationships are still true, and he pursues a second date, to make up for the first one.

6. Moment of Grace. Hitch is confronted by Sara's boss at the Food Rave about his relationship to Allegra Cole and Albert Brennaman. Hitch dodges at first, but now recognizes what's going on. Max's next question has to do with what Hitch does, to which the chef's assistant comes by to serve them oysters. Hitch has an allergic reaction to the oysters and, as he's choking to death, manages to say: "You think that I’m in a stressful state...because I’m trying to make a good impression...while also dealing with my commitment issues...trying to avoid all these awkward conversations." Upon which Max's wife (the psychiatrist) says: "I think you're having an allergic reaction, which is exactly right, in two ways, physically to the oysters, and psychologically he's having an allergic reaction to Max's questions. Thus, a beautiful metaphor is made. Notice also that the allergic reaction to the Oyster throws Hitch off his game (as they trot off to the drug store to buy on the story's supply of Benadryl), and it reminds us of the first time Hitch's game was thrown a curve on Oyster Island (Ellis Island) when Hitch introduced Sara to her relative "The Butcher" (whom Hitch thought was like a cook, not dissimilar from the chef at the Food Rave that brings Hitch an Oyster). And finally notice that the allergic reaction has something to do with a woman named Allegra. None of this is coincidence, but 99.8% of the audience will only connect this stuff subliminally. The net result of all this is the Hitch realizes that keeping secrets is NOT getting him anywhere fast. In fact it's thrown him off his name TWICE.  (Ideal 56 min. Actual about 61.5 he knows something is up.)

7. Act 2B, the Protagonist makes progress using the positive side of the moral premise
On the way from the drug store, while drinking the store dry of Benadryl, they have this conversation:
SARA: I bet I can ask you just about anything right now.
HITCH: No. I'm a vault, baby. Locked down.
SARA: What is an heiress doing with a CPA?
HITCH: They're going to the Knicks game.
SARA: Yep, Fort Knox.
HITCH: He loves her so much!
SARA: I'm sure he does.
HITCH: I'm telling you, people search their whole lives trying to find the...reasons that we're here.
SARA: I wouldn't know.
HITCH: You would if you saw it.
SARA: Sometimes it's really hard to see the forest through the sleaze.

And that is Hitch (although he's partially drunk) using the positive side of the moral premise and revealing information in confidence. Does it work?

You bet. She invites him to her apartment and puts him to sleep on the couch. Ta! Da!

Later they begin to share more personal information, in confidence... although Sara, remember is a gossip columnist and he's going to be tempted to not stay too long near the center of the Nicomachean virtue... and reap the negative consequences as we'll see.

But at this point they both have turned the corner in their relationship and their romance takes positive steps.  

Later in this part of Act 2, Sara get's Hitch's business card from Munson, although she doesn't know that the card belongs to Hitch (there's no name....secrets...ah, the antagonistic force of keeping secrets is closing in for the Act 2 climax.) In other scenes, Albert kisses Allegra. Hitch gets third date with Sara lined up. In the meantime Sara has her gay co-worker call the "date doctor" and set up a meeting at the zoo, at which Sara watches from hiding to see who the "Date Doctor" is.

8. Act 2 Climax. Defeat at the Hand of the Antagonistic Force.  
At the zoo, Sara discovers that the Date Doctor is Hitch. She looses it.  Sara's boss tells her not to expose Hitch. Their third date is dinner at his place, and she ends up throwing vegetables at him and storms out. He's clueless. She does as front page story on Allegra, Albert, and Hitch; "Coach of the Year: Can this man get you in bed with Allegra Cole? A Sara Melas exclusive."  But she does and destroys the relationship between Allegra and Albert. This is a perfect example of the two vices of the moral premise that slam together and cause the end of Act 2--a near death experience. She leaves Hitch's place at 87 min. Her expose' story appears at 88 min, essentially killing several relationships. Ideal for this Act 2 Climax is 88 min. Actual Act 3 Climax ends at 88.4 min.

9. Act 3 Begins. Dark night of the soul.  
Sara is sad. She doesn't heed her boss' advice. Albert trashes newsstand when he sees Sara's article, and gets arrested. Hitch and Sara go at it at the speed-dating event that he crashes. It's all about "secrets" or trying to unravel them. It's "Hand to Hand combat".

SIDEBAR: Romantic Comedies (as in most comedies) set up an inappropriate goal. The inappropriate goal is the physical hook -- secretive date doctor chases gossip columnist. The hook is the lie that forces everything else in the story to seriously be truthful. This is "the lie that tells the truth". It's "the impossibility convincing told." The hook is the humorous situation, which, when everybody else in the story takes serious, creates humor. I LOVE LUCY worked totally on this premise. Lucy was always trying things with Ethel that we all knew were impossible -- and Ricky told her so. Seeing Lucy taking herself seriously in a stupid situation, and seeing Ricky reacting like we were, was what was funny, especially when Lucy get the last laugh through something that was always there but we didn't see. And the surprise ending was never the hook. It was just kept secret from the audience, and usually from Lucy, too.

This speed-dating scene is a perfect example. Both Sara and Hitch are so serious, they're mad. But the situation is hilarious, because the filmmakers surrounded Sara and Hitch with a naturally funny setting--speed dating for the inept, the insecure and the dating-invalids. It's also a good example of foreground and background action, both reinforcing the moral premise while advancing the story on two levels. Essentially the background chatter is either the inner dialogue of the foreground actors, or an explanation of the metaphors taking place. Example:

BACKGROUND MAN: "I did ice climbing once."
(a metaphor for what is going on in the foreground as Hitch is climbing an iceberg named Sara)

BACKGROUND MAN: "The sun comes up, the ice really starts to fall apart."
(when the truth be told relationships fall apart).

BACKGROUND MAN: "Basically, I like outdoors sports; but indoor sports have their place, too."
(Sara and Hitch's first date was an outside sport on personal watercrafts on the Hudson. What they're doing now uses personal attack-crafts in a small room.)

BACKGROUND MATRON: "This is really kind of distracting. And I haven't gotten laid in a year!"
(Actually, that's true of most everyone in this room. Thank you for that insight.)


Moving along. Part of Act 3A is a Chris Vogler beat called "Resurrection." In HITCH this beat occurs when Sara comes to Hitch to apologize. But he's leaving town. Albert comes to commiserate and challenges Hitch to walk the talk. Albert is in love and he challenges Hitch to that same goal.
ALBERT: "You're selling this stuff, but you don't believe in your own product."
HITCH: Love is my life.
ALBERT: No. Love is your job. (99.7min)
This is something that Hitch began to learn back at his MOG, but now he sees it more deeply. And so, Hitch springs into action.

On Allegra's yacht, Hitch confesses all to Allegra and then Albert and Allegra make up.

10. Final Incident. 
Hitch goes to Sara's apartment and at her front door his game is way off. She enjoys seeing him that way. He asks her to close the door, when he really fumbles. But then she opens it and he see's there's another man in her apartment helping Sara leave her apartment for a trip. This is the final attack by the antagonistic force (KEEPING SECRETS) that Sara doesn't immediately share the truth with Hitch about. (Ideal about 102 min. Actual begins at 104 min.)

11. Final Battle.
Hitch chases after Sara in the street, and almost gets himself killed jumping on the car.
SARA: Are you trying to get yourself killed?
HITCH: If that's what it takes....because that's what people do. They leap and hope to God they can fly. Because otherwise we just drop like a rock wondering the whole way down: "Why in the hell did I jump?" But here I am, Sara, falling. And there's only one person that makes me feel like I can fly. That's you.

12. Victory.  (GAME ON) The kiss...
 And then (and only then) does Sara introduce the man... Tom, her sister's husband. Sara and Hitch kiss again, for real.  

13. Denouement: Allegra and Albert's wedding. Hitch: "The basic principles? There are none."  (see he started out telling us there were secret principles. now he admits that the best policy is not to keep secrets.)  End song, "Now that we've found love, what will we do with it." 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Monica Macer and Steve Taylor Interview

What follows is a transcript of the May 5, 2012 Biola Media Conference General Session interview with Monica Macer and Steve Taylor by Stan Williams.

STAN WILLIAMS: Welcome to the Great Conversation in Cinema. You're here today to find your next creative breakthrough, whether you're an experienced filmmaker or media producer or you're just starting out. The reason you're doing that is so you can participate in the historic Great Conversation about who we are, why we are here, and what we are supposed to do about it. And hopefully, in the process of doing that, you'll be able to communicate to society as a whole what is good, true and beautiful -- and help society find its breakthrough hopefully to God.

To help me do that today, let me introduce two esteemed and prolific and wonderful media creators.

Monica Macer graduated from Vassar College, spent time in New York City as a playwright and director, then moved to Los Angeles. She has worked as an assistant at Nickelodeon Movies, a Creative Executive with the Walt Disney Company, a writer's assistant on Fox's "24," a staff writer on ABC's LOST, Fox’s "Prison Break,” NBC's "Knight Rider" and MTV's "Teen Wolf, and as co-producer on NBC's "The Playboy Club." Monica is married to actor/filmmaker Sterling Macer, Jr. and they are the proud parents of daughter Dylan Soon-Marie Macer. Please help me welcome Monica Macer.

(Applause as Monica walks out, is greeted by Stan, and sits in a her chair.)

STAN WILLIAMS: Steve Taylor graduated from Colorado University, then spent 12-years as a songwriter, artist, and producer winning multiple Grammy nominations. In 1997 he founded record label Squint Entertainment. His debut feature film, THE SECOND CHANCE, was distributed theatrically by Sony Pictures Releasing in 2006. His second feature as director/co-writer is BLUE LIKE JAZZ, released by Roadside Attractions. Steve lives in Nashville with his wife, the artist D.L. Taylor, and their daughter Sarah. Please welcome, Steve Taylor.

(Applause as Steve walks out, is greeted by Stan, and sits next to Monica. Stan sits facing them.)

STAN WILLIAMS: Monica and Steve, the two of you represent an incredible variety of creative talent and successful experience in music, theater, movies, network television, from New York to Nashville and Los Angeles. Let's talk about your creative breakthroughs and some of the things that motivate you. What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What's important? Monica, let's start with you?

MONICA MACER: I would definitely say my faith motivates me. I first want to give a shout out to Faithful Central (Bible Church). That was my first church as an adult believer. They helped me establish my walk. (Cheers from the audience.) While I was at Faithful Central I was a writer but I wasn't sure where I fit. And it was through a lot of prayers and a lot of friends who prayed for me ... that really helped me figure out where I fit. I'd have to say my faith is the biggest thing that inspires me. So, I see every job that I get as a spiritual assignment.

STEVE TAYLOR: I have to say, first of all, that I'm a little self conscious. I came out here from Nashville last night and I was told that nobody in South California, wears socks. (Steve stares down at his feet.) And I'm walking around here and all I see is a sea of socks everywhere I look. (Laughter from the audience.) I feel practically naked. So, anyway, sorry about that.

So, yes, what inspires me. It's the point where my Christian convictions intersects with my creative pursuits is the thing that inspires me and motivates me, both going back to music and now with film. It's that intersection that makes me what to make stuff. As I work with other artists, I always encourage them in that same direction because I think that's the place where we find our greatest fulfillment as artists.

STAN WILLIAMS: By fulfillment do you mean taking where you're at in your spiritual walk and somehow communicating that in your art? 

STEVE TAYLOR: It can work itself out in all sorts of different ways. It starts with who I am as a Christian and what my convictions are. Then, maybe it's something that makes me very angry, if our convictions as Christians are not lining up with what we're doing as the church. So that's what motivates me to write a song or write a screenplay. Or, sometimes it's in the bigger picture that strikes me as odd, or good, or a great story. But ultimately it comes back to that intersection of Christian conviction and creative pursuits.

STAN WILLIAMS: Monica, one of your favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 16:18 that in one translation it says, "A man's gift (or a woman's gift, excuse me) makes room for (her), and brings (her) before great men (and women.)" Another version puts it: "A person’s gift clears his way and gives him access to the great." Can you break for us a little bit, and tell us what that means to you?

MONICA MACER: When I first started in the business that Scripture really ministered to me because I thought it was my gifts and talents as a writer that God has deposited in me, that will bring me before great men, and I'll tell these great stories that will have to do with the human condition. But later as I grew up in the industry, the Lord showed me that it was really my spiritual gift — I'm an intercessor and an encourager.

The Lord showed me that those gifts were going to open doors for me. I would be put on staff where the gifts of intercessory prayer and encouragement were needed. On a lot of shows I've been on I felt that the Holy Spirit was telling me that I needed to pray over the contact sheet. For those of you who work on production or are in the studio on features, the contact sheet has hundreds and sometimes thousands of names on them. I'd say, "Really, Lord? I'm suppose to pray over all these names?" So, I'd diligently pray over them.

Now, five to seven years later, to the present, while I still pray over the contact sheet once a week, I feel the Lord has taken me deeper to intercede on behalf of the writing staff. That doesn't mean to pray these pretty prayers about salvation and all that great stuff, which is needed and part of the assignment, but He's told me, "I want you to intercede for them, the way you'd want someone to intercede for you." I've had experiences that have confirmed this.

In the writers room you share really intimate things. I've had people tell me deep things about what's going on in their marriage and what's going on in their family life. And the Lord has said to me, "I've created this relationship so you could intercede for them. They've shared that with you because they need prayer covering." Sometimes I'll tell them I'm praying for them if I feel led. And sometimes I'll just pray. So that's what the Scripture means to me.

STAN WILLIAMS: Steve, your critics know you for your sarcasm. Reviewers say that you've been known to ask them, "So, did you like it, or was it just over your head?" You've also said that film is probably a little bit different. Would you comment a little about sarcasm, particularly how you see your ministry in media, and a little bit about how film is different from music?

STEVE TAYLOR: Yes, in music that was the joke. I could sit any of you down and play you my new album and at the end look at you with a straight face and say, "did you like it or was it over your head?" But in filmmaking I don't get that luxury. Because music is so subjective, people process it all kinds of different ways and there are all kinds of mini-genres. But in filmmaking you're ultimately telling a story.

So, I didn't have the luxury of finishing it and BOOM it's done. In film, all of a sudden I have to show it to audiences. The old saying is that a movie is made three times: first when you write it, second when you film it, and third when you edit it. But there's a fourth time, when you show it to any kind of an audience because you learn so much more at that point about what's working and what's not working, where have you lost them, and where are they one step ahead of you. I had not experienced this before.

STAN WILLIAMS: Is that why you say that film is more participative?

STEVE TAYLOR: Definitely. Right. You just don't have the luxury of spending multiple years of making a movie and then sitting back and saying, "Well, that's it. I hope you like it because ultimately you're trying to tell a story, and if you're confusing an audience you're not telling the story. Filmmaking, ultimately, is a lot less subjective than making music and that's what makes the bigger challenge I think.

STAN WILLIAMS: Let me ask both of you for those attending today, how can we best be involved in the Great Conversation? What is the one thing you'd say to everyone here, including myself, what's the best way to find our creative break-through. Monica?

MONICA MACER: I'd say, prioritize your relationship with the Lord. I know that sounds sort of pat, but whenever I get so focused on -- "Oh, I need a breakthrough on the script." or "I need to be excellent on the job." Whenever I seem to get my eyes off the real purpose is, that's when I get kind of getting the most frustrated and the most stuck. When I give it over to God and stay focused on him, that's when I get the breakthroughs. It's like He says to me, "Ah, okay, now I've got your attention again." So, I know it sounds really, almost trite. But that's what it's been for me — worship, or praising God, or connecting with friends who can intercede on my behalf— that is what has always led me to a breakthrough.

STAN WILLIAMS: In terms of craft, though, like right now you're entertaining several different proposals, how do you choose which one of these shows you're going to work on? There's something you said to me that seems important, something about identifying with the character? 

MONICA MACER: Yes, yes. Thank you. So, it's staffing season right now in Hollywood for T.V. writers. It means all the new shows are coming up and we're all running around town meeting with network and studio execs; and you have to say what you like about a script and you have to pitch yourself for these different projects. Reading for NBC alone I think there are twelve scripts.

For me, it's not just what I think I would be good at, for there are a lot of things in my wheelhouse as a writer that would allow me to execute a project excellently. But to me the question is, "Does the character speak to me?" If the characters don't speak to me it's probably not the best fit for me. It's like, do I identify with the characters? Am I excited to tell their stories? Am I excited to tell their struggles? Do I want to live with them, best case scenario, five seasons or more? So, it's really about that depth of personal connection.

STAN WILLIAMS: It's about writing what you know. It's about meeting your craft with your passion. And Steve I know that you don't do what Monica does in terms of reading twelve different scripts for a studio, you seek out your own projects. So, you have to find your own passion, like you were saying earlier, someplace where that intersection between spirituality and entertainment meet. But you said something to me really interesting about finding your breakthrough in terms of making something. 

STEVE TAYLOR: Some of you may have heard that I had a little run-in with the Executive Producer of Sherwood Baptist movies. Which was unfortunate because even though I'm not a huge fan of everything they do, I really admire that they took the resources that they had, and they went and made something. And while so many of us talk about making stuff, or imagine the perfect cast, or the perfect scenario, or what are we ever going to do if we get a studio's money, they took the resources they had, hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of millions, and they made something. And each time they make something they get better at it.

So, I think for a lot us, even though you're living in Los Angeles and you're surrounded by studios and money is being thrown everywhere, and while it's good to think about grandiose ideas and what you could accomplish if you had access to all of that - - - in the meantime you should be making something. You know? Get together with your friends and shoot something. And that's really how you get better and how the craft works.

I'm taking the personally. Don't talk about it. Just do it.  Make something. Monica, let me ask you something, and this relates to Steve, too. Monica, why tell stories about werewolves and bunnies? And Steve, when she's done, I want you to think about, why are you telling stories about Christian losers in secular universities. Monica, why werewolves and bunnies?

MONICA MACER: Why werewolves and bunnies? Okay, so from the bio, most of you know that I was on the Playboy Club this past season. And, actually, there were three Christians on the writer's staff, including me, which is the most I've ever worked with before. Clearly, there was a spiritual assignment there. Not a lot of people saw it, only three episodes were aired before it was cancelled. But it was a period piece set in 1961 in Chicago about the cocktail waitresses that worked at the club. It wasn't about the girls that posed nude in the magazines.

So, basically through the guise of history we can tell stories that deal with issues that people are struggling with today without hitting people over the head, without being didactic. The same with werewolves. I love genre because it's world-building.  I love Star Trek just because of all the themes you can deal with that people are struggling with today but you don't hit them over the head. So, people can take what they want and what they need from the story rather than you telling a story that you think people need to hear. You weave [the meaning] in. It's like a parable. So, that's why I think bunnies and werewolves are important.

STAN WILLIAMS: So, Steve, why's is it important to tell stories about guys who lost their faith in secular universities?

STEVE TAYLOR: I think you called them guys who lost their faith in secular universities? It's important because I was one. Not all of you know this, but I actually went to Biola as a freshman. I was on a President's scholarship. I promptly lost it due to academic, ah, concerns. And I couldn't afford going to Biola, so I went back to Colorado and went to Colorado University in Bolder, which was I can't imagine a more different than my experience at Biola, which I loved. But there was very little at Biola that prepared me for life at Colorado University at Bolder.

So, when I read [Don Miller's book] Blue Like Jazz about a kid who grew up in a Southern Baptist suburban Houston and goes to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, which was called in the Princeton Review the campus in America mostly like to ignore God, I wanted to make that movie because I felt I had lived it. It's that personal connection which you've got to find in your material because, in this case, it was a six-year tour of duty before we got to make it. So, you're going to need some type of personal connection because that is what you're going to need to get through it.

STAN WILLIAMS: Definitely writing what you know. That's great.


STAN WILLIAMS: So, let's now talk about commercial failure. Because you've both just experienced that. The Playboy Club is cancelled after a pilot and two episodes although you produced six, and, Steve, BLUE LIKE JAZZ, although I think it's going to become a cult classic in Christendom, but the box office... well, there are some distribution issues there. Bu what have the two of you learned from those two commercial failures and others? What does that tell you as Christians? Does that give you some motivation? Does that depress you? Where do you go from here? Monica?

MONICA MACER: It was really a bummer when Playboy got cancelled because it was probably one of the best jobs I ever had, just in terms of my bosses and the creative vision and getting to tell a period piece on network television. My episode was the last one to get shot. It was about the African American bunny that saves all her tips and bought a house in a white neighborhood. So, we dealt with all of that, and there was interracial tension. So, it was really heartbreaking.

And yet I know, like I said earlier, every job I have is an assignment; and when the assignment is over, kind-of like a soldier, I get R&R time. T.V. writing is so stressful and all consuming, and I have very little time for my family. You're kind of like a soldier. It takes a lot to launch a new show because you're competing for all those viewers in the fall. And in the fall they announce so many new shows on all the networks, so we're all competing for your eyeballs. I try not to take the cancellation personally, although I cried and I was, "O God, what's next?" And when we got cancelled it's not at a time where there are lots of jobs left. So, I just thought, this is down time, time to prioritize my family. I get to pick my daughter up from school at three-o'clock and make dinner for my husband. I get the downtime to recharge, so when I get called up for duty again I'm ready to go. 

STAN WILLIAMS: Steve, you talked about a term I want everyone to hear.

STEVE TAYLOR: Yes, there's a term that's often used in technology called "the bleeding edge." Fundamentally, [these kind of projects] involves risk, and you're going places where there's a lack of consensus, there's a lack of testing during the development process, and you're working in an industry resistant to change. I've always been comfortable with those three ideas. If you're ultimately motivated by something besides money or commercial success, then that's a comfortable place to be in. It's a good place for Christians to be.

In the music world there was a band called The Velvet Underground, which some of you may have heard of. The word on The Velvet Underground was that they only sold about 40,000 albums. But everybody that bought one of those albums was inspired to create their own band.

So, I would like to think that a project like BLUE LIKE JAZZ with its frankly disappointing box office return, although we hope for the best for what's to come. But, when you live a life on the bleeding edge, what you do will sometimes succeed, and sometimes it will fail, but what you hope is that it will inspire other people to come along and try things. BLUE LIKE JAZZ was certainly not the first project to do that, it was inspired by many things in the past, and we wanted it to be part of that tradition. We knew we were going where there was a lack of consensus, and a lack of testing, and we knew it was risky. But we made the movie that we got to make and ultimately we're happy.

STAN WILLIAMS (to audience): So, how many have seen BLUE LIKE JAZZ? (several dozen raised their hands. Steve, there are all your competitors. They're all going to go out and make movies like you did.

STEVE TAYLOR: That's great, I want to shake all of your hands. (Applause) I'll tell this story really quickly. The only reason we got to make it, after we couldn't find people to fund it, was because some fans of the book started a Kickstarter campaign. (some hoots from the audience) (to the audience) We're some of you involved in the Kickstarter Campaign?

What happens when you start a Kickstarter campaign is that you offer incentives. Send us $50 and we'll send you a t-shirt and a poster, send us $100 and we'll put your name in the credits. We had 1,600 associate producers at the end of the movie. (laughter) Ultimately we had 4,500 people give us $345,000 which was an all-time record on Kickstarter at the time for film. But I didn't think it was going to work, so I said, give us $10 and I will call you and thank you personally. I ended up with a call sheet of 3,500 names. So, if any of you were part of that project, hopefully you got your call and it would be nice to meet you in person and put the face with the voice.

STAN WILLIAMS (to audience): And if you've seen the film, it's worth staying through the credits, because listing the associate producers takes longer than a regular movie credits. And you know how long those are. (to Steve) That's really great.

Monica and Steve, I want to thank you so much for the generous amount of time to gave us today and your great ideas. (to audience) Let's give them a round of applause to show our appreciation. 

(Applause as Monica and Steve leave the stage.)

(Stan to the audience) Please consider subscribing to the Great Conversation in Cinema blog where we'll post this and other great interviews, and where the longer version of the trailer is available. In closing, good luck [God's providential blessing] in finding your creative breakthroughs so you can help society find its breakthrough to God.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Greenhouse Q&A

On Sunday night, May 6, 2012, I was the guest of The Greenhouse Arts and Media of Hollywood, CA that meets monthly at the CBS Studio Lot in Studio City, CA. From its website
The Greenhouse exists to bring creative artists to life. Its mission is to maximize the potential and productivity of individuals engaged in the creative arts by equipping them in all areas of life through relationships, mentoring, group discussions, and artistic projects. It seeks to engage and enhance culture locally and globally through superior artwork and entertainment. By seeking to value, serve, and equip artists and the artistic community, and by maintaining a commitment to creativity and artistic excellence, The Greenhouse will provide people with the opportunity to create quality art and entertainment that explores meaning, moves emotion, sparks imagination, and enlightens the soul.

You should not confuse the Greenhouse in Hollywood of which I was a guest with The Greenhouse in Hollywood, FL which is a vegetarian restaurant, or with Ann's Florist and Greenhouse, also in Hollywood, FL , or the Greenhouse Herbal Center Medical Marijuana Collective of Hollywood, CA.

Shun Lee, my host, kept me busy for over an hour asking questions. But then he made the mistake of inviting those in the audience (about 130 souls) to email questions to his smart phone and he'd ask me their questions. Well, we got though three of the questions before we ran out of time. So, then I made the mistake of saying, "Hey, Shun, send me the questions and I'll answer them on my blog."

So, here are the questions verbatim, and my answers.

Christ Y. For multiple film stories (trilogies), do you believe that the unidirectional character arc is still a solid way to go or does multiple films introduce the possibility toward turning the character arc a completely different direction and is this a good idea?
Stan: Each movie should stand on its own, and all the movies together should be about one super-arc moral issue. In fact, the protagonist in each movie may be different, as well as the moral premise. At the same time, premises, arcs, and goals, can be nested, so that each movie is about its own one thing, and altogether they can be about one things that where the issues are nested. Thus, the super arc can be about selfishness vs. selflessness, but each movie may feature a different character that struggles with sub forms of selfishness such as greed, tyranny, and power.
Hans Obma: Are there any moral premises that will work well in a book but not in a movie?  Or vice versa?
Stan: No. A moral premise is not media dependent. What works good in a movie will work in a book, will work in a movie.
Hans Obma: Could you break down the moral premise in Hitch?  Or Lord of the Rings?
Stan: I have not studied or broken down The Lord of the Rings. You'd think I should have done that, but it takes a while, especially with a long movie. The moral premise for Hitch is based on a Nicomachean Ethics Value Scale, with RESPECTABLE HONESTY (or the ABSENCE of SECRETS and RESPECTING PRIVACY) as the central virtue. On the extreme virtue side of the scale we'd find BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION and PREPARATION FOR OPPORTUNITIES (what Hitch does in his job as a date doctor). On the absence of virtue side of the scale we'd find MANIPULATION and TAKING ADVANTAGES OF SITUATIONS (what Sara does in her job as a gossip columnist). Put more simply, Hitch tries to find the truth in a possible relationship and plan to make the relationship work. Sara tries to find the treachery in a relationship and celebrates with the relationship falls apart. Thus the moral premise could be stated like this:

Pretending to be someone we aren't (playing a game of false identify)
leads to loneliness;
being honest about who we really are (our true essence)
leads to relationship.
Jessica Keath: Can you give examples of films that fail to realize their moral premises?  What could they have done better?
Jessica, I think you mean to ask for examples of films that fail to have a consistent or true moral premise and thus fail to connect with audiences. Examples would be: SEVEN POUNDS (false moral premise, general audiences will not accept suicide as ever redemptive); CITY SLICKERS II (acquiring wealth that is not ours, does not bring happiness); BELLA (fails to make clear what it's really about).
Jessica Keath: Does crafting a moral premise violate or conflict with the documentary story telling process?
Stan: Not at all. The process of constructing a story from documentary material is still the same, but it may be harder to find a natural dramatic structure without changing some story element that general audiences prefer to see in such a story.
Cheryl McKay Price: Is there a common moral premise for the most successful films?
Stan: Not really. Yet, there are some conflict-of-values pairings (the psychological virtues and vice that set up the left hand terms in a moral premise statement) that are more common due to their heightened universality: e.g. Selfishness vs. Selflessness
Kirsten Roquemore: Would it be like Christians in Nazi Germany lying to protect Jews? i.e. if they were totally truthful it would have led to the death of the people they were hiding
Stan: Are you asking, "Would it be morally right for Christians in Nazi, Germany to lie to the Nazis about their hiding of Jews in their house? If the Christians would totally truthful, it would lead to the death of those they were hiding?"

I've actually debated this question with theologians, because it is not hypothetical and a moral issue in any number of movies,  such as the one I've been pitching around town (Berlin. 1943. A 14-year old German girl dares battle her mother' fiance, an S.S. Colonel, in order to save her two Jewish friends from liquidation when the Colonel is assigned to destroy a ghetto. If you wish for peace.... PARABELLUM). Two answers. (a) With respect to the moral premise, the answer is that the audience's general perception of what is natural and true drives the movie's potential popularity, not some absolute, esoteric theological position... although, generally, natural law and theological truth should not disagree when both are accurate. (b) While it is never right to lie, in some circumstances the moral consequence of lying is insignificant. That is a Christian lying to a Nazi about Jews hiding in their attic is a sin. But some theologians would argue that God would look past the sin because to tell the truth would bring about something worse... the murders of humans.
Paul Rose Jr.: What about the Fast & the Furious, where the "bad guys" are the heroes?
Stan: Like a number of movies, Fast and Furious has a true moral premise, but it's about bad guys learning what "bad" is and how to "redeem" themselves. Right and wrong consists of degrees. Thus stealing a tanker of gasoline in wrong, but murder is worse. Another theme you'll find in movies like the James Bond movies, the TV show 24, the Mission Impossible stories, etc. is that there is a natural law that is above the laws of the state. The general movie goer understands this (subliminally), and thus they root for the best outcome for the hero, whether he's a good or bad guy. In short, bad guys can find redemption but not without some natural consequence.
Unknown: Since Oceans 11 almost promotes stealing, what would the moral premise be?
Stan: This sounds bad, but I have not screened OCEANS 11. But from reading the storyline, it probably seems the audience would think that stealing from a casino (who entices the poor and the rich to give up their money under the pretense of a hope driven by greed) is far less a sin than adultery or sexual slavery. This is another case where the audiences have this idea that natural moral law trumps federal and state laws. I sense that the general public believe that casinos are legal fronts for theft and greed. Thus, taking down such an evil empire by emptying its vault is a virtue.I have this speculative sense that God would smile on casinos going broke.
Brian Chan: Do you believe the journey of the protagonist from vice to virtue is a quest toward wholeness in his humanity that we desire to see in ourselves?
Stan: Ah, there you go, Brian, asking the theological astute question. I absolutely believe you are right and what you say is a major reason people go to the movies. They want to discover how to achieve that wholeness and live life more happily.
Brian Chan: Does the law of the moral premise parallel with the law of beauty in our own redemption and transformation?
Stan: Absolutely. And I recommend Brian's book. There is a perfect alignment of Brian's writing about beauty found in Christian theology, and the true and consistently applied moral premise in a story. (Brian asked this knowing I no doubt plug his book. Glad to do so. The Purple Curtain.)
Brooke Lander Shurtz: Can you talk a little about TV specifically half-hour comedy, relating to the moral premise and an example of a show you can think of that illustrates metaphorically?
Stan: I have not studied half-hour comedy that much. But "My Name is Earl," "Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire," and "That 70's Show" and "Friends" all would have true and consistently applied moral premises. In fact, in my book, I talk about "Married with Children." Check it out. Remember, a true moral premise is one that truthfully applies natural consequences to moral decisions within the diocese of the story's setting.
Unknown: Have you ever had a project rejected by a studio for its moral premise and accepted by another.
Stan: No. But then I've submitted very few scripts or stories to very few studios. Usually rejections come without explanation. I would venture to say that there are dozens of good reasons to reject a story before you get anywhere close to figuring out if the moral premise is true or false. In fact, in my Story Development Steps figuring out the moral premise is not at the top.
Jonathan Perkins: I believe you reference the "moment of grace" as happening at the midpoint. What is the difference of that at the midpoint versus the character's choosing the "winning" solution, which marks their breaking into act 3?
Stan: The Moment of Grace (of the protagonist's main storyline) and the film's Mid-Point do occur at the same time, and the closer to the middle of the picture the better. The Moment of Grace is that point where the character consciously or subconsciously discovers the truth of the moral premise and begins to pursue the physical goal with the truth of the moral premise as his or her motivation. (That's true at least in a redemptive film. The opposite is true in a tragedy.) But the protagonist is not perfect. The MOG is not a 180-degree turn. And until the final Climax of the story (end of Act 3) the protagonist is still learning. There will be setbacks, such as at the end of Act 2 and his or her "near death experience" where it seems that the antagonistic force has forever prevailed. But something more happens at the Act 2/3 crossover. There's a moment after the Act 2 climax where the protagonist is utterly defeated and goes through the dark night of the soul. And then, for some organic and dynamic story reason that the writer comes up with, there's a moment of realization, or a resurrection beat, or something that causes the protagonist to remove his or her mask of false identity and turn to his or her true essence and the solution that wins the day. That "winning solution" that you mention which appears in the early part of Act 3, was first foreshadowed and recognized by the protagonist at the Moment of Grace. But it's not until Act 3 that he or she fully realizes the extent, or the martyrdom, that has to be embraced to win the day.
Paul Rio: In relationship to your faith in God, what is the premise of your life?
Stan: I often sign my books, "May you discover the true moral premise for your life's story and follow it to eternal success." In that sense, I would answer two ways. First my mission in life is this: "To discover divine truth and promote it to those within my sphere of influence." Second, to restate that as a moral premise statement (which I have never done before, so thank you for the question) might go like this (subject to revision): Embracing fallacious falsehoods as guidance for life leads to dissatisfaction and dread; but embracing divine truth as guidance for life leads to satisfaction and fulfillment.
Unknown: Isn't Skeeter in The Help a traveling angel character?
Stan: I'm not familiar with that term or the narrative system it comes from. But I can see where calling her that could make some sense. One of Joseph Campbell's geniuses is recognizing that the mythic identities of characters can overlap at times, and one character can play multiple roles. But Skeeter isn't without conflict, although she is a steadfast character, which is where you get the idea of the "traveling angel." Her steadfastness changes a number of characters that make choices off her worldview, her boyfriend, her mother, the Help, and her editor.
Kirsten Roquemore: I was deeply impacted by "A Simple Plan". What is your opinion of the storyline?
Stan: Greed leads to distrust; but extreme greed leads to murder—a true moral premise. Tragedies don't do well at the box office, however, for reasons other than the moral premise.
Yong Hwan Kang: Can you tell me (if) Star Wars (is) based on George Lucas' family experience?
Stan: I have no idea. But usually there is some aspect of "write what you know" in all successful films.
Sarah Williams: When holding your sessions how do you decipher the writing style of your students of "pantser or plotter" and how do you groom them?
Stan: I don't groom writers, they don't like being brushed. You can tell a pantser from a plotter only after viewing their work or talking to their agent or talking to the writer about their writing history. After describing the difference and the  pros and cons of each, usually a person will tell me what their tendency is, and we can go from there. Where my coaching goes from there depends on the writer's discipline to apply what I suggest. We discuss what they think their problem is, and I'll suggest a solution or process to apply for the next few weeks of writing. The writer will come back and show me what they did, or tell me, and we make adjustments. Ultimately, every writer is different, and subtleties of practice make all the difference in the world in terms of completing a work.
Chuck Hayes: When does a moral premise become cliche?
Stan: When the statement is so general that is applies to too many stories. e.g. "Hate leads to death; but love leads to life." A good moral premise statement will specifically respond and describe a particular story and not so many others.
It's also probably important to point out that the moral premise statement never needs to be written or spoken in a story, and since it is essentially a secret tool of the writer the statement has the opportunity of never becoming "cliché." The danger is in the statement being so broad that anything goes for the characters and what the story is really about becomes obtuse or ambiguous to the writer during the writing, and to the audience during the viewing. 
Samantha Marquard: What do you make of the phenomenon of the Twilight series and Hunger Games. What is the moral premise of both?
Stan: Both the Twilight Series and the Hunger Games movie (with more to come) are about true moral premises. The Hunger Games' moral premise is this:
Ignoring conscience leads to TYRANNY; but
Heeding conscience leads to FREEDOM
where conscience is understood to be an individuals' moral conscience that is conformed to natural law.
The Twilight  stories are all about rebellion, conformity, sacrificial love, vs. selfish lust. I have not worked out a moral premise statement for the series, but in the first film James says this: "Whether you want to be rebellious or conform I think it really boils down to choices, and every Teenagers goes through these choices, and where they want their lives to end up."
And in an interview, author Stephanie Meyer says, "The idea that these creatures are so strong and yet they try so hard to be good when they really don't have to. I think that appeals to a lot of young people. You can be whatever you want, no matter what stereotype you fit into, you don't have to go by those rules.

Bella has this line: : I've never given much thought to how I would die. But dying to take the place of someone I love is a good way to go.

Finally, I think Stephen King over simplifies the movie Twilight a bit, but there's an element of sarcastic truth in his comment about our culture when he says, "Harry Potter is about the importance of sacrificing one's life for your life. Twilight is all about how important it is to have a boyfriend."
Michael Mitchell: Is there a film that has a major lack of moral premise that was successful?
Stan: Not that I know.
Jim Krueger: C.S. Lewis talks about how he has no desire to gamble.  No inclination at all.  And then he states that this is not necessarily a good thing, because it also means that he lacks the virtue that gambling is the fallen form of.

How would this fit into your Moral Premise approach to story?  And, does this sort of character only work as a supporting character to the protagonist/antagonist, as a metaphor/warped mirror of the main moral conflict.
Stan: I think C.S. Lewis is wrong about himself. First, he gambled when he embraced Christianity, although he waited and debated a long time to minimize whatever risk there was.
Second, he gambled every time he wrote a poem, essay, or book. He gambled on England and his reputation when he gave his war broadcasts. I think that what he meant to say was this, "I have no desire to risk what I think will ultimately fail." That is perhaps gambling in a pure state, but it is practiced only by the weak of mind and fools, of which C.S.Lewis was not a participant.

Third, Lewis, perfectly in my estimate, demonstrated the virtue that is opposite of gambling; e.g. reason, debate, thorough analysis, comparison to natural law, etc. He was not a gambler because he was such a good critical thinker. QED, he was wrong.
Shaun Pilkington: Some movies break box office records but are very skimpy on anything related to morals or plots. What do you think of movies like The Avengers?
I have not seen the Avengers, but I have read the synopsis. I dare say it has a true moral premise at it's core and a lot of plot, although both are probably swallowed up in SFX and CGI candy. But both are there. In terms of plot there are the protagonists and the antagonists who want to take over Earth, but the protagonists (The Avengers) fight as a team and figure out how to defeat Loki and his accomplices. From reading the synopsis is appears, as in all good stories, the protagonists are not immediately successful. They start out not being very productive then discover the right way to attack, and finally do so to win.
In terms of a moral premise, you probably having something like:
Lust for power leads to defeat; but Sacrifice for others leads to success.
Now that's a good example of a moral premise statement that is almost too general for its own good. But until someone looks carefully at the movie and figures it out in the com box, that's what I have to offer.
Thank you for your good questions, one and all.

I hope I was able to help.