Wednesday, May 11, 2022

You Can't Twist the Fabric of Reality

This short segment of a Jordan Peterson talk is an excellent description of The Heart of The Moral Premise concept. "You Can't Twist the Fabric of Reality and Get Away with it."

Peterson's point is summarized by an adage I first heard from my good friend Dan Glovak (R.I.P). Dan reminded his daughter and my son of this before they married: 

You can make any choice you want,
but you have no control over the consequences.

In my Moral Premise workshops I use this diagram, which I explain below.

The Decision Cycle in Pursuit of a Goal

A character (or real person, on the left) has a goal they want to achieve (the red star on the right). Typically the path to achieving the goal requires some sort of personal transformation.  In reality (Peterson's "fabric of reality") the transformation takes place through a series of cycles through the following four steps.

1. VALUE. The person possess certain values and reside deep in their psyche. The person may consciously recognize and be able to articulate those values, or they may not. The values may be either righteous, good, banal, bad, or evil. Regardless, the values are  the inner motivations that control the person's decisions and actions. 

2. DECISION. When a person observes something outside themselves, such as the goal they want to achieve, or an anti-goal they want to avoid, their values kick into action. They may do this consciously or subconsciously, but they nonetheless evaluate, compare, and contrast what they observe (perhaps a behavior of a person or an event in the physical world) outside themselves to their motivational values. Depending on the strength of their values and the largeness or smallness of the observation, the person makes a decision to interact with the observation, or thing outside them. The person decides, perhaps, to change what they observe, or to come alongside it and encourage the behavior or presence of whatever it is. 

Both steps 1. and 2. occur inside a person's psyche. They are invisible. But they are real events that happen in the person's mind. 

3. ACTION. Based on numerous factors and conditions, the person translates their values and decisions into the physical realm and takes some action, which as just mentioned either attempts to change or encourage the outside observation....or path the person wants to take toward their goal or anti-goal. 

These first three steps are all within the control of the individual. 

But once step 3. ACTION occurs, the person is at the mercy of Natural Law, or the fabric of reality. 

4. CONSEQUENCE. For every action there is a re-action. It could be an opposite and equal action as we know about in the realm of physics. Or, in the psychological realm it could be an alignment or encouraging, reinforcing action. But either one is not for the individual to decide or control. The consequence is entirely regulated by Natural Law. It may be a law of  physics, like gravity—you can't step off a cliff without falling and hurting or killing yourself.  Or, it could be a law of human psychology. If you are disloyal to a friend, Natural Law indicates you have a good chance of losing that friendship. 

The result?

After the person experiences the Consequence (and depending on the severity of it or them), the person may adjust their values, hopefully driving them closer to an alignment with Natural Law (The Fabric of Reality), where they will find true peace and happiness. If the person is malleable in this way, given enough of the cycles through those four steps, Natural Law will nudge the person toward what is good, true, and beautiful...unless the person is particularly belligerent and meets a tragic end—the true villains among us. 

This diagram and explanation is all very nice, but it's missing the sizzle of Peterson's passion and insight.. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Storytelling and Pop Music

 Here is a YouTube episode from the popular musical theorist Adam Neely about Céline Dion's performance of All by Myself, a live performance on February 23, 2016. Neely breaks down the music, the physicality, and the storytelling elements in an astounding analysis of why songs and music work.  It's meaty, sit up straight and listen carefully. Secrets are about to be revealed.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Tips on Reading and Understanding Screenplays

Here are some tips for folks who want to read a screenplay but find it confusing and unconventional. If I miss something important, tell me and I'll add it to this post. 

1. SCREENPLAYS (SP) ARE NECESSARILY SUCCINCT. They're charged with creating emotionally ladened stories and engaging characters in as few words as possible. There are mechanical and well as creative reasons for this:

Mechanically, the SP should represent the length of the film such that one page equals one minute of screen time. This does not leave room for elaborate descriptions.

Creatively the succinctness leaves plenty of room for the creative input for actors, directors, art directors, costumers, and the composer. 

2. SCENE HEADINGS.  Every new location or new time begins with a SCENE HEADING, also called a SLUG LINE. The slug line always begins with INT. for interior scene, or EXT. for exterior scene. Sometimes the actions begins inside and ends outside,  INT./EXT. is used. Following this is the location of the scene, and at the end of the line is the time of day in simple terms: DAY or NIGHT, or sometimes SUNSET, or DUSK, etc.  Slug lines are always ALL CAPS, sometimes they are also underlined and bolded.

At the end of some slug lines is the word ESTABLISHING. This means the shot is a WIDE view of the location, usually a building with no principal actors visible. It's a short scene that establishes where the next action takes place, usually an interior room of the building.

3. ACTION DESCRIPTION immediately follows the slug line. These short sentences describe what is seen and heard, but never what is spoken. SUPER: "TEXT ON SCREEN" indicates text on screen. Sounds created in post-production are always CAPITALIZED, but not sounds that can be recorded on the set. ACTION is always written in present-active voice, never past-tense. SPECIAL EFFECTS are often ALL CAPS as well.

4. DIALOGUE is preceded by the name of the CHARACTER. Both are indented from the margin.

Following the CHARACTER'S NAME, that precedes the words spoken are often abbreviations. If the abbreviations do not follow then the voice is spoken on camera and we see the actor's lips move, although often in the editing room that changes. Lips that move in sync with the picture are in SYNC, a term rarely used in screenplays, but sometimes necessary for clarity. 

  • V.O. = Voice Over (a voice that is NOT in the scene)
  • O.C. = Off Camera (a voice from an actor in the scene but not seen by the camera.
  • O.S. = Off Screen is an alternative for O.C.
  • SOTTO = the actor speaks the lines softly to him or herself
  • CONT'D. = the line that follows is a continuation of the line before separated by an action description of a page break.
  • FILTERED = processed voice, possibly to make it sound as if it's coming over a phone.
  • SINGS = the lines are sung
  • (PRE-LAP) = the line spoken comes from the following scene (after the next slug line). A pre-lap line is concluded after the visual transistion to the next scene. 

5. SPECIAL DENOTATIONS usually justified left:

INSERT and END INSERT (or BACK TO SCENE) sets off a close up shot of something in the set that needs to be seen up close. An insert does not require a slug line.

POV and BACK TO SCENE indicates beginning and end of a character's POINT OF VIEW or what the character sees. The camera becomes the character's eyes for a few moments. JAKE'S POV - THE BRACELET. A POV does not require a slug line. 

FLASHBACK followed lines later by END FLASHBACK indicates a scene that jumps back in time. FLASHFORWARD does the opposite. Flashbacks require a new slug line.

DREAMS and VISIONS are formatted just like FLASHBACKS.

6. TRANSITIONS are justified RIGHT and include CUT TO, DISSOLVE, FADE IN, FADE OUT, etc.

If no transition is noted, the assumption is a CUT.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

How Invisible Moral Decisions Effect Visible Physical Plots

I'm helping a friend who has ALS write his memoir. He's a retired automotive design engineer who side-lined as arm-chair philosopher. For years he's been active on a few Internet forums that discuss politics, religion, philosophy, and language. He is always reminding people to "check your premise." 

Now he's not a story writer, so when he says "check your premise" he's not consciously referring to my book The Moral Premise, this blog, nor is he referring to writers crafting a story. 

Well, that's not exactly true. He IS referring to the person he's dialoguing with and the story they are writing about themselves with their the same way a writer makes "life" decisions for a fictional character. 

In this idea of making moral decisions and checking your premise is the mechanical process that allows audiences to emotionally connect with fictional characters. The moral premises of our characters must accurately reflect how real people interact with the unchangeable laws of the universe. The laws of the universe include both physical and psychological laws—or metaphysical laws often referred to as spiritual and moral. Don't let anyone tell you naturally sourced spiritual and moral laws are relative. Governments can make laws and try to enforce them, but such "laws" are subject to the immutable laws of the universe and human nature. 

Back to my friend.

His advice to...


lives alongside the concept that


Neither can your characters live in contradiction to reality. But of course they try. That's the foundation of drama. A character can willfully walk off the edge of a 100-foot rocky cliff, as he attempts to force reality to contradict itself. But since reality does not and cannot contradict itself, your character falls to his death. 

In the same way, if a character lives by a moral premise that lying is a virtue (as some of our legislators believe) reality will catch up with them. Oh, for a time, a law that contracts reality may be passed and enforced, but eventually there will be a reckoning. Reality will have the last say.

When plotting out the physical beats of a story you must include in the plotting the moral premise (or the value system invisible in the character's head) for the character's physical actions. Mental decisions are part of the plot. Without the mental process you cannot have physical action. Of course, I'm assuming you're writing a story about a moral agent, a person who has the psychological will to act...either in cooperation with reality (natural law) or contrary to it. In every case, the internal, invisible decision, based on a motivating moral premise or value, will determine whether or not the physical consequences will bring pleasure or pain to your character. In order to connect with audiences that consequence must agree with reality. It cannot be in contradiction to reality. 


Now, let's take this one level deeper into the sub-conscience, as Christopher Nolan (Inception) might do. Let's assume a character (like a person in real life) commits some contradiction to reality. He breaks a law, or commits a sin, or embraces some vice that is invisible to those around him. Yet it's not something brazen that will eventually be discovered is the physical realm, like an illegal pyramid scheme. Let's assume the contradiction (or vice) is entirely mental on the part of the character—envy, greed, lust, bitterness, hate, arrogance. Of course, any of these can easily be personified, and take the form of physical action. Your character participates in the mental game of envy, greed, lust, bitterness, hate, or arrogance because they believe (perhaps subconsciously) that harboring such thoughts will bring them pleasure. But reality does not allow pleasure to flow from vice. 

What happens is subtle. The character knows (consciously or subconsciously) that thoughts of envy, greed, etc. can lead to physical actions that others will quickly regard as wrong. This is where the age-old adage "what you think is what you are" comes into play. Such thoughts lead to guilt, and guilt leads to distraction, or perhaps evil thoughts lead to distraction first, and then guilt. Eventually, the character becomes obsessed with the thoughts and the potential ramifications that even without acting on the thoughts, other activities, even seemingly insignificant ones, like house keeping (making bed), hygiene (brushing teeth), and financial (no tips at a restaurant), lead to a lack of self-esteem, which leads to depression, which leads to some physical act that is seemingly totally unrelated to the original thoughts of envy, greed, etc. Perhaps it's an argument with the lawn service because the grass was cut too short. Perhaps your character drops a jug of milk and it spills all over the kitchen floor.  He's late for an appointment (due to multiple distractions that build up) and gets a ticket for speeding, and then argues with the cop and ends up in jail overnight. 

In this way even mental lapses with reality, and just thinking about living in contradiction with reality, can lead to a character's detriment. In this way a complex character can enter into a plot that may at first seem disjointed, until the real problem, a psychological, mental, moral, or spiritual mind set is revealed. 


...his moral values. Is he attempting to live in contradiction with reality, even if only inside his mind? Remember:


Only the government can contradict reality...although not for long. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Movie Material: The Captain's Wife

Here's a post that reinforces what we all know as writers: Write What You Know...or can research and know second hand. 

On Instagram I follow HistoryHustleOfficial, which posts short blurbs about fascinating but forgotten (or nearly so) events in history. Being a recreational sailor, with two ship builders in my ancestry, I've had a fascination with the age of sail, the ships and the men that risked their lives to make nearly impossible passages and establish worldwide trade and communication. 

When the post at right from History Hustle appeared in their feed, I immediately went on-line, found and purchased two books. One was the non-fiction account of the large clipper ship Neptune's Car by Paul Simpson. It was well written and included the story of Mary Patten (below). The second was a meticulously researched, well-written, edited, and dramatic novel The Captain's Wife by Douglas Kelley.

For the last several weeks Pam and I read Kelley's book to each other after dinner, a few chapters at a time. It captured our imagination and often we didn't want to stop reading. Not only is the story amazing, but Douglas Kelley, who seems to have disappeared from the Internet after this book was published by Penguin/Dutton, did a fantastic job researching the story, the era, and the working of the ships. He rarely tacks or wears from the true story documented by Simpson.  

Yes, the book held our attention because we are sailors on the Great Lakes and have been through some storms and bad weather aboard our 41-foot Islander Freeport ketch, which is a heavy, blue-water vessel. But the story appeals to both to men and women since the characters are mostly men (of the roughest breed). Yet it's a quiet but resolved woman who saves them from death on the high-seas while rounding Cape Horn in the winter. Who would do such a thing? Well, many did, and others died trying. 

Pam and I have often read to each other aloud rather than watching movies. We love both. But books last longer than a movie. LOL!  And since I'm working on a novel right now (which includes a couple chapters aboard a 1788 square rigger in a storm) it's good to read well-written material similar to what you're trying to write.

Here's the brief story about Mary Patten from History Hustle:

When the Captain Fell Ill, His 19-Year-Old Wife Saved the Ship and Faced Down a Mutiny

In 1856 the captain of an American clipper collapsed of illness, leaving his 19-year-old wife to navigate. Mary Patten commanded for 56 days while pregnant, faced down a mutiny, and studied medicine to keep her husband alive. She earned fame and was awarded $1000 for her heroics. She said she was doing “only the plain duty of a wife.”

In 1853, Mary married a sea captain named Joshua Patten. His ship would take people and cargo from New York to Boston.

When Joshua Patten took over for a captain on another ship bound for San Francisco in 1854, he took his new wife, Mary, along with him.

Mary, was determined to be of help on the ship and she read up on how to sail a ship, and how to navigate, so she could be useful. She also learned “meteorology, the ropes and sails, stowage of cargo, and many other ship’s duties”. And next time, on the second voyage to San Francisco, she again joined her husband, this time pregnant.

As was common in those times, Patten could receive thousands of dollars if he got there in under 100 days. So the captain was pretty angry when his first mate was caught sleeping. He locked him up as punishment. But the second mate was not a great sailor and so the captain had to do the work of multiple men himself.

But he ended up getting sick with a fever. So Mary Patten, in true fashion, read medical books on board and learned how to treat him. She also now had to captain the ship.

The first mate asked her to let him out, but she wanted to respect her husband’s wishes, so she refused. He tried to get the crew to mutiny against her, but she was able to convince them that she could lead the ship and secure the reward money.

When she finally finished the successful voyage, she became a celebrity. She was awarded $1,000, and a fund was created to help out with some costs.

According to Mary Patten she was doing, “only the plain duty of a wife towards a good husband.”

By the way, Douglas Kelley isn't a sailor, but is a corporate pilot, or at least was when he wrote and researched this book. So, the case in point is that if you can't write what you know, you CAN research the topic until you DO know it. Kelley proves the point with The Captain's Wife.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Virtue of Procrastination

 Been working on a long-form novel for a long-now time. I already know what happens in every scene... I have very long detailed outline. But HOW things happens in a scene seems only to be resolved by procrastination—doing everything else except writing to give more time to psychologically rummage. I'm posting this blog instead of writing. LOVE this meme:

Monday, August 2, 2021

Protecting Film Investors

This from Mark Litwak. I've made use of Mark's digital contracts and a number of his very good books for years. He's a valuable resource. 

Law Offices of Mark Litwak & Associates
201 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 300
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Protecting Film Investors

Film investments have a bad reputation, and deservedly so. There are instances where financiers have been cheated and lost their entire investment. Consequently, some investors simply refuse to consider film-related investments. This is unfortunate because an intelligent investment in a motion picture can earn substantial returns. While film investments are risky, the potential return from a hit can be enormous. No only can the film earn revenue from box office receipts, but there are many ancillary sources of income. These sources include revenue from television, home video, merchandising, music publishing, soundtrack albums, sequels and remakes.
As an attorney who represents investors, as well as filmmakers, I have learned that there are ways to reduce the risk of film investments. Here is a checklist to guide investors.


Thoroughly investigate the reputation and track record of any producer or distributor you contemplate doing business with. No contract can adequately protect you against a scoundrel. Speak to filmmakers and investors who have done business with a candidate. Check court records to see if the company has been sued.


Federal and State security laws are designed to protect investors. Offerings to the public generally require prior registration with the SEC or a state agency. Usually private placements are limited to persons with whom the offeror has a pre-existing relationship. Even if registration is not required, the anti-fraud provisions of the security laws require that the offeror make full disclosure of all facts that a reasonably prudent investor would need to know in deciding whether to invest. The information disclosed should include a detailed recitation of all the risks involved in developing, producing and marketing a movie. Avoid any offering that appears to violate this requirement by making less than full and truthful disclosure. Carefully read the private placement memorandum (PPM) and consult your own financial and legal advisors before making a decision to invest.


Do not back a filmmaker or production team that does not possess the proven skill needed to make a professional-looking movie. Avoid first-time filmmakers. You are safer backing filmmakers whose have completed at least one short or a feature-length work. Partner with people of integrity who bring the skills, expertise and resources to the endeavor that you lack. For instance, if you don't have the knowledge necessary to evaluate a script, bring aboard someone who has that expertise, or hire a script doctor.


There is a very limited market, and modest potential revenue, to be earned from short films, documentaries, black and white films, and foreign language pictures. 
Certain themes, topics and genres can be difficult to sell. Religiously-themed pictures can easily offend audiences. Cerebral comedies can be difficult to export because their humor may not translate well. Films with a great deal of violence may be shunned by European television which is a prime market for independents. Films with explicit sex may not pass censorship boards in certain countries.

Independent films without name actors are difficult to sell. Of course, name recognition varies around the world. The star of an American television series may be a big name in the United State but unknown abroad. On the other hand, some actors have large following aboard, yet are relatively unknown in the United States. You can consult a source like for how well known an actor is.


The director of the film is the key person who will determine whether the final product is marketable. If a filmmaker shows no concern about making a movie with audience appeal, you can expect a film whose exhibition will be limited to the family and friends of the filmmaker. This is not to say that the only films you should invest in are low-brow fare like "Dumb and Dumber." A well-made "art" film like "Elizabeth," can win awards and make a handsome return on investment. Filmmakers should give some thought beforehand as to the nature of the film's intended audience. I once watched a wonderful "Lassie" type film spiced with four-letter words uttered by one character. I explained to the filmmaker that his film would never sell in the family market because of the vulgar language, and it was too soft a story to appeal to teens and adults.


 It is best to invest in an endeavor where everyone shares the same risks and rewards. A filmmaker who takes a large fee from the production budget may financially prosper from a picture that returns nothing to the investors. It is better to back a filmmaker willing to work for a modest wage and share in the success of the endeavor through deferments or profit participation. An investor can take some comfort investing in a motion picture on the same terms as a producer or distributor where all parties recoup at the same time. Beware of investing in a project where other parties benefit when you lose.


Usually, investors are entitled to recoup all of their investment from first revenues before payment of deferments or profits. Many times investors are allowed to recoup 110% or more of their investment in order to compensate them for loss of interest and inflation. Profits are declared after payment of debts, investor recoupment and payment of deferments. Profits are generally split 50/50 between the producer(s) and the investors. Thus, investors who provide 100% of the financing are entitled to 50% of the profits. From the producer's half of net profits are paid any third-party profit participants (e.g. the writer, director and stars).

 1. See section 1268.2, California Code of Civil Procedure.
Mark Litwak is an entertainment attorney, author and expert witness based in Los Angeles, California. His practice includes work in the areas of copyright, trademark, contract, multimedia law, intellectual property, and book publishing. As a Producer's Representative, he assists filmmakers in arranging financing, marketing and distribution of their films. He is an Adjunct Professor at U.S.C. Gould School of Law. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

25 Flawless Movies?

I clicked on one of those advertising "click-bait" sites: "25 Flawless Movies."  There are way more than 25 films listed, because there are hundreds of sucker advertisers paying the site owner to get their ad exposed to eyeballs. It's a scam. I never look at the ads, which is about the only content on the pages. It's also a scam because some of the movies listed were terrible, and all had flaws at some level.

But I was inspired to attempt an answer to a frequent question, "What is your favorite movie?" 

My answer is simple. It's 2001: A Space Odyssey. During college I saw it 10 times, once with my Senior Philosophy Symposium Class with our instructor that explained Thus Spake Zarathustra to us and what the movie was really about. I still find the special effects the best of any science fiction movie, including Star Wars.

Below is MY list, in alphabetical order.  I tried to cut it down to 25, then to 50, but I couldn't. I think there are 67. I enjoyed all of these too much to eliminate them from the list, even though some did not do well at the box office for some Moral Premise reason, and thus I would claim have flaws. There is really no such thing as a flawless movie, especially since movies (at least the good ones) are works of art and thus subject to subjective judgements.  Nonetheless...

What are some of your favorite movies? Please add them to the comments.

2001: A Space Odyssey (all time favorite)
A Man and a Woman
Aliens I
Annie Hall
As Good As It Gets
Blazing Saddles 
Blind Side
Bruce Almighty
City Slickers I
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Exorcism of Emily Rose
Die Hard
Dr. Zhivago 
George Lucas in Love (short)
Gone With the Wind
Grand Torino
Green Mile
Ground Hog Day
Hail Caesar!
Help, The
Hurt Locker
Incredibles, The
In the Bedroom
Karate Kid V (2010)
Kite Runner
Lawrence of Arabia
Liar! Liar!
Lord of the Rings: (all three)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Noah (Aronofsky)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Passage to India
Passion of the Christ
Pride and Glory (Gavin O'Conner)
Purpose Rose of Cairo
Pursuit of Happyness
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Saving Private Ryan
Silver Linings Playbook
Slumdog Millionaire
St. Vincent
Warrior (Gavin O'Conner)
What Women Want
Where Do We Go Now
Where the Heart Is

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Narrative Theory & Beyond Order

A few minutes ago I finished reading Jordan Peterson's book BEYOND ORDER: 12 More Rules for Life. 

I normally do not write book reviews on this blog, and I hope this post doesn't turn into one. But I mention it here on the Moral Premise Storycraft Blog because Beyond Order has a great deal to say about Storytelling and Narrative Theory

While I enjoyed and heavily endorsed his 12 Rules for Life, Beyond Order is better.  I think Beyond Order is better written and edited, but it also has more explicit things to say about Storytelling and its importance to culture... things I have said for decades.  

Unlike many people who comment on Peterson's work, his writings have not revolutionized my life, but they have reinforced my worldview and how I attempt to live it. The life principles he examines are very much how I was brought up by responsible parents within a Biblical Christian worldview. But yes, Peterson challenges me (he often sounds like St. Paul) in areas of my life where I am weak and need improvement. Don't we all? In that respect, I hope his words will motivate me to change what needs to change. 

Peterson's view of the world in which we live as a frightfully terrible place should have deep resonance with most of us. It does for me, but then I was born, and my Mother exacerbated, my melancholy-choleric temperament. Peterson's understanding of the malevolence in the world, however, dovetails with a story's need for an overpowering antagonist or villain that threatens the protagonist at every turn. 

In speaking of Friedrich Nietzsche, (who was the philosophical inspiration behind Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, my all time favorite movie) Peterson does a concise and resonant explanation of Nietzsche's famous "God is Dead" pronouncement. Peterson writes: 

[Nietzsche's] fear that all the Judeo-Christian values serving as the foundation of Western Civilization had been made dangerously subject to casual rational criticism, and ... the existence of the transcendent, all-powerful deity—had been fatally challenged.  Nietzsche concluded from this that everything would soon fall apart, in a manner catastrophic both psychologically and socially. (p. 161-162)

I guess Nietzsche was write. Of course God is not dead in a literal sense, unless your POV is the current social-political culture. Least the importance of that to successful storytelling slip by, this fits well with the concept of the Moral Premise—

Ignoring Natural Law (transcendent reality and the values of Western Civilization) leads to psychological and social catastrophe; but Building up Natural Law et al leads to psychological and social harmony. 

If your story deals with the plight of persons trapped in poverty and their grit and determination to claw their way out, Peterson offers this juice fodder for story development.

There are many reasons... why people are poor. Lack of money is the obvious cause—but that hypothetical obviousness is part of the problem with ideology. Lack of education, broken families, crime-ridden neighborhoods, alcoholism, drug abuse, criminality and corruption (and the   political and economic exploitation that accompanies it), mental illness, lack of a life plan (or even failure to realize that formulating such a plan is possible or necessary), low conscientiousness, unfortunate geographical locale, shift in the economic landscape, and the consequent disappearance of entire fields of endeavor, the marked proclivity for those who are rich to get richer still and the poor to get poorer, low creativity/entrepreneurial interest, (and) lack of encouragement.  (p. 169)

Just the statement of Rule XI, Do Not Allow Yourself To Become Resentful, Deceitful, or Arrogant sounds to me like part of a Moral Premise Statement. Not only does it provide several ideas for the negative side of the moral premise, but it suggests that it is within the protagonist's power to change. 

As a further tease, here are the subtitles for the chapter on Rule XI:

The Story is the Thing / The Eternal Characters of the Human Drama / Nature: Creation and Destruction (see the Moral Premise Statement in that) / Culture: Security and Tyranny (more MPS fodder) / The Individual: Hero and Adversary / Resentment / Sins of Commissions / Sins of Omission / The Existential Danger of Arrogance and Deceit vs The Place You Should Be.

It's a long chapter (pp. 303–353) and a wealth of story themes perfectly laid out with motivations for both the hero and villain involved. I wrote in the margins on page 315 one of the great adages of storytelling: "To achieve our greatest desire we must face our greatest fear." That is true of every protagonist and hero. 

In the midst of that same chapter Peterson provides a case study of a real-life Sleeping Beauty. He essentially writes the treatment for a modern day, true life, live action drama. Someone should do the screenplay (pp. 321-328)

In short, read this book if you're serious about understanding character and motivations.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Diegesis and Non-Diegetic Sound

Sound Designer at Work
The term "diegesis" refers to the fictional world filmmakers create and everything in it. The word comes from a Greek word that evidently means narration or narrative. I don't know this from any study of Greek. I read it in my film school text books. There is more about the terms here at DailyWritingTips.

I contribute answers now and then to Quora on the film and screenwriting threads. This morning someone asked "How does the non-diegetic sound contribute to the atmosphere in a film?"  This brings up one of those things movie goers take for granted and yet are so important to the experience of going to the movies. 

Screenwriters struggle with communicating the emotional context of a scene. The emotional content of a scene is more important to the movie goers than the intellectual aspects of the diegetic action, although there can be no emotional response without the diegetic making intellectual sense. The interplay between these two is a paradox of communication. Screenwriters must work only (well, 98% of the time) with the intellectual diegetic elements and yet hope to create an emotional response in the audience. 

However, the diegetic intellectual elements by themselves, rarely create the deep emotional response that audiences subliminally crave and that make the movie moment (the diegetic moment) memorable. We can all remember great movie moments and describe them to our friends. But I'll bet you can't remember the non-diegetic elements that triggered your emotional response, which in turn allowed you to remember that scene so well. This is one of the great mysteries of storytelling and especially narrative films.

Perhaps the single most important aspect of transferring the intended emotional response is NON-DIEGETIC SOUND, which is typically NOTHING that the screenwriter can write.  The paradox is that audiences rarely, if ever, can recall non-diegetic sound, unless they buy the Motion Picture Soundtrack CD or tracks and listen to the music. Yes, the music bed that plays in the background (and not from a radio or music source supposedly on the set) is non-diegetic sound. But there is so much more to it, like sound effects and sound mixing of the diegetic sound (e.g. dialogue, Foley sound, and on-camera noise).  Screenwriters try to infer non-diegetic sounds, but generally the ideas for such sounds and the genius of creating them and mixing them is left to suggestions by the Director and expertise of Sound Designers, Supervisors, Editors and Mixers. Sound Design is incredibly important to the success of motion pictures and yet as screenwriters we have very little to say about it. Sad but true. Which is one reason skilled screenwriting that can imply such things is so important. 

All that to say Markus Innocenti (a former Supervising Sound Editor), gives a wonderful answer to the above mentioned Quora question, which is linked HERE

On the linked thread I thanked Markus for his excellent answer and make some remarks, which I have elaborated above. He then wrote this, which should be an encouragement to all screenwriters:

Thank you — and I agree. It is extremely difficult to suggest non-diegetic sound in a screenplay, and to do so is often ‘unwelcome’ given the traditional view that a director interprets a script to conform to a personal ‘vision’. I think it’s true to say that good writers work endlessly on finding ways to “suggest” an interpretation that lies closest to their own — in the full knowledge that, at the end of the day, the emotional impact of the film will rely on the director’s choices as to how the non-diegetic is applied.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Problem and Solution for Bio Pics

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Are Screenwriting and Hollywood Dead?

 I received an email from a reader who articulated an oft asked concern about pursuing a writing career in the motion picture industry.   The questions he asked, in an email with the subject line that has now become the title of this post, are often asked of me (hundreds of times, perhaps)... as if I have some precognitive, clairvoyant insight. Hollywood legend William Goldman famously wrote of Studio Executives (see the yellow highlight in the photo below):

For those of you who can't download images, the text says, "Compounding their problem of no job security in the decision-making process is the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. ... Again, for emphasis— NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. [Goldman, William (1969). Adventures in the Screen Trade. New York, Warner Books. page 39.]  I've included the picture from my copy of the dogeared book (a must read for anyone thinking of writing screenplays) to prove that it was not I, but the author who capitalized and centered like an on-screen super: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

Now, two things about this famous line have always caught my attention. (1) NOBODY is bad grammar. It's suppose to be "NO ONE," or at least it was in the good-old-days, whenever that was.  But then William Goldman is one of the most celebrated and successful entertainment writers... books and screenplays. He's wonderful to read. And, (2) if you drive around Hollywood much and gawk at the mansions or hang-out inside of a few of them, as I have on occasion, it's clear that A LOT OF BODIES KNOW SOMETHING.

On the other hand, I am not claiming to be one of those bodies. I think I know a thing or two. But there are always those that know more. There are also those whose different experience would prove things are different on the other side of Wilshire Blvd, although things are pretty much the same on both sides of Sunset Blvd. 

Okay, enough of the wisecracks and disclaimers. But before I get to the question of the reader praised The Moral Premise for it's left-brain practicality, and without shame I need to pass on his kind words:

I found your book actionable and free of a lot of mumbo jumbo that just kills progress in the writing arts. ... What was great ... it was concise and manageable. I did an internet search today and... glad to see you're not dead. 

Are you sure? Let me check. (SFX: padding down body.)  Yeah, guess you're right.


My gut feel is that Hollywood is dead and movie making has no place in a short attention span society It seems like short episodic content is all people can watching Netflix series etc., or play games on phones. I'm just wondering if I should sink my life into writing in a medium that seems to be past it's heyday. What movies do get made are blockbuster copy films.... I'd want a chance at actually getting my screenplay made into a movie and maybe making a living. 

 I'm not sure really how to approach all this. Before I go all in I wanted to get your advice on possible outcomes and what I'm actually looking at here professionally.

Let me parse this into smaller questions:

1. Due to society's short attention span are long form movies dead?

No, for the same reasons that movies did not replace novels. Short attention spans have been around a long time. It may seem that social media (e.g. TicTok) has made attention spans even shorter. But really all it's done is attract a wider audience that had short attention spans to begin with. I like TicTok videos. But I still like long novels and movies. What is to be learned here is that everyone is different (both creators and consumers). I have a neighbor who is a successful entrepreneur. He is highly intelligent, possesses reams of common sense, is energetic, has a strong work ethic, and his ability to focus on tasks is never ending. Yet he falls asleep when he reads a page from a book, or so he says. I've never witnessed his malady. But he'll watch and learn from YouTube all day. He learns differently. So, with each new media invention we widen, not narrow, our audience. 

2. Is short episodic content all that people can handle...binge watching Netflix series for example. 

My wife and I have been hooked at times on binge watching Netflix and Amazon Prime content. We also like feature length motion pictures and have a large collection of DVDs and Blurays by our HD video screen in the living room. We have been known to spend 4 hours in one evening binge watching an Amazon Prime series, of one-hour episodes. That is about twice as long as a "long" motion picture. So, at least in one respect "binge" watching is not any shorter than the acts, scenes, or sequences of a motion picture, and often longer.  Look at it this way. If you're writing a 500 page novel (I currently am), you have to make EVERY page of 350 words interesting. If you're developing a long motion picture, every scene better have conflict in it, and at the end of a sequence of 12.5 minutes there better be a disaster than propels your audience to watch the next sequence, or the next episode... or turn the page. It's true in writing novels as well as screenplays (whether comedy or horror) there better be a "reveal" or "discovery" or something "good" on every few pages or you'll lose your audience. At the same time, every scene on a script, like every paragraph and sentence in a novel better be well written if not ironic, metaphoric, shocking, or revealing.  Now, times do change. There was a time when Noah lived for hundreds of years, and the ark took only a few of those to build. But for the most part he sat around and had nothing to read or watch... and then there was Abraham who wandered in the wilderness for a long time with nothing to look at but sand and camels.  Now, do I think  social media sucks brain cells out of users?  Sure do. 

3. Should I sink my life into a medium that is past its heyday?

What you should do is not a question I can answer. My advice in terms of your life goals is to follow the advice of Laurie Beth Jones (Jesus CEO, The Path) and Jordan Peterson (12 Rules for life, Beyond Order).  The two authors cross paths frequently in their advice, e.g. JBP's Rule V (Beyond Order) corresponds to Jones's Mission concept: "Do not do what you hate... but what you're passionate about." 

As to if the medium being past its heyday?  No, it's not. Not anymore than Streaming has replaced DVDs. Now, that may require a little unpacking. The sale of DVDs are clearly declined in favor of streaming. But in my situation I hate streaming and love DVDs/Blurays. Why? Well, (first) because although I have an ultra high speed Internet connection, streaming movies in my neighborhood is still fraught with disconnections. The movie stops in the middle and I can't get reconnected. And (second) because DVDs and Blurays have all that extra documentary material on them that is absent with streaming.  And, (third) because buying or renting two DVDs a month is cheaper than a movie package from the cable company. 

BUT NONE OF THAT IS MY POINT... which is that stories are never going to be out of vogue. The crux of culture, at anytime in history, and anyplace in the world, is THE STORY.... and the longer the better. You can write and produce for short attention spans or long attention spans.  But life is long, and the stories of people's unfold across decades, not seconds. Further, people will be happier and more satisfied with their lives the more they lengthen their attention span, especially for the work that they pursue in their lives (c.f. Beyond Order, Rule VII: "Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens." ... and then there's Rule VI "Abandon Ideology")

 4. What movies that do get made are blockbuster copy films.

In a SMALL sense that is true. But such films are few in comparison to the many films that get made and released. Do some research. Get on IMDB and categorize all the movies made in the last year before the pandemic shut down production. List the original movies (even if their antecedent was a book) and those that were copy films or sequels. You'll be surprised.  

5. What are the chances that my screenplay can be made into a movie?

Pretty small. Near zero, if not zilch. Unless...

  • You're a very talented writer
  • You work very hard and develop your talent over many years 
  • Your friends are filmmakers and they like what you write
  • You live in LA, NY, etc and you're good at selling what you write  
  • You have access to a lot of money to risk on funding what you write
  • You are multi-talented and can produce, director, & fund what you write
  • Any combination of the above... the more the better. 

 6. Can I make a living at writing screenplays

Very few people do, unless a few of the bullet points above apply.  There are two very apt adages that go along with the movie industry:

  • You can die from encouragement.
  • You can't make a living, but you might make a killing. 

There are, however, a lot of writers in the industry that make a living at writing for the screen, but they're not what you might call feature length motion picture screenwriters. Well, they are in a sense, but here's what they do for a day job (writing) while working on their passion screenplay that may never get made... although there's always hope and encouragement (see the above adage about death).

  • Write for a movie industry trade publication
  • Write and produce PPV (VOD) media for Internet (for a company or yourself) 
  • Write video media for corporations (on staff or independent)
  • Write commercials for Internet, TV, or Theatrical release  
  • Write for television and Internet channels
  • Write and rewrite scripts for others without credit (many do this)
  • Write for live television shows 
  • There are thousands of writers in the industry (spread around the world) that do the above. and the jobs are more like a regular job, except just about EVERYBODY (ah, EVERYONE) is freelance.  I know a couple of full time writers in L.A. who make good money year-after-year, by writing anything that comes along. Literally, they've done all of the above, plus writing for games. You'd be surprised how much a gaming script looks and reads like a motion picture script. 

Hope this helps.


Monday, July 12, 2021

Story Planning - Outlining - Breaking - Carding

The editable (and thus functional) Apple Keynote files used to illustrate this post can be downloaded for a small fee. See this link.

However they do it, successful-efficient-productive story writers plan-outline-card-break long form stories before they write.

I've recently completed working with four different writers, helping them to break (or Outline, Plan, or Card) their story, and guide them through with the script writing, rewriting, end editing process. 

Without becoming anal or planning too deeply, story planning of the major story beats, for both the main plot and the subplots, is easily accomplished (okay, nothing good is really easy) by using one or more visual methods for outlining the story.  I've used 4" X 6" index cards on a door wall with masking tape, and I've used color Post-It's on a 4' x 8' pice of masonite with the Story Diamond outlined on it. I've tried to use Final Draft's Beat Board, but still find it limiting in ways I find Keynote freeing. 

In the last few years I've found the use of Apple's KEYNOTE application on a Mac to be easy to use, flexible, and transportable. I emailed drafts of complex carding files (in Keynote) to Dubai, Beijing, Moscow, and and yes email works her in the U.S., too.  I like Keynote over PowerPoint because Keynote is easier to use in terms of duplicating cards, adjusting fonts, colors, card alignment, and the slide size (i.e. beat board) can be as large as 8,000 x 8,000 pixels. The "slides" can be shared in various fixed formats like jpg or PDF, or you can send off the keynote file.  If you'd like the keynote file that created the slides below (the file will work with Keynote 10 and later) just write and ask for it. I'll send it for free though email, or post a link for you to download.

If you've followed me I keep offering up different ways to break or card-out stories. These ideas come from working with different clients and their stories, which dictate what we need to create to facilitate the communication of the story beats, and how their structured.   So below are a few beat plates for Story Planning I've created in Keynote with a few comments below each image. Related is this linked post on the 8 Mini-Movie Beat Plate.

Here are the slides (or beat plates). I think you can click on any image and see a larger version. These were saved as 8K square jpegs.


The typical 3x5 or 4x6 cards written on with a felt pen and then stuck to a wall or laid-out on a table are also easy to move around and arrange in keynote. You can add highlight to the cards or use different color cards or pens to indicate scene breaks, turning points, climaxes, etc. Or you can use different rows or columns for the story sequences.


In the above graphic each column represents the plot or subplot for a character. Seeing the chronological ordering of cards like this (in one column, top to bottom) helps me to ensure that the beats are chronologically logical. Looking at the beats for a plot in sequence allows me to check if there is an easy to understand cause and effect relationship between the beats, as the story for that column progresses down. 

One column per subplot or character arc. The first card at the top of a column names the character or subplot and the character's physical goal.  The last card in the column should indicate the resolution of the goal. Somewhere in the middle is that subplot's Moment of Grace (MOG).  All subplots whether they are 3 beats (the minimum) or 20 need: (A) to focus on ONE character (even if that character is a town or ensemble); (B) a Physical Goal; ; (C) a MOG; thus leading to (D) the arc needs to be clearly redemptive (up), tragic (down), or ironic (a little up and down). Also, each arc should illustrate the Moral Premise for the story in different ways... and yes, all the subplots and arcs in a single story need to have a common Moral Premise. 

NOTE: There is NO relationship horizontally to the cards from one column to the next. A subplot with only 3 beats might not begin until the middle of the movie. Once these individual character subplots are chronologically laid out (as above), you would place them in a beat plate like the one below in one of the subplot rows... and arrange them chronologically with respect to the other beats of the other subplots. Being able to shift these beats/cards left and right (or add or subtract beats) is critical to story planning or beating out the story. 

The final thing I keep stressing is that the Protagonist or Hero has about 50% of all the dramatic beats in the whole story. Thus, Protagonist "A" may have 45 beats, and when you add up all the other character beats and all the other subplots you should have about 45 beats for the others as well. Thus, there should be no question about who the movie is about. See also Story Structure Basics

BLANK BEAT PLATE 8000 (not sure what to call this)

This beat plate is a derivation of the 8 Mini-Movie Beat Plate without the focus of the 8 Mini Movies. Time moves left to right. The color boxes down the left side (A-Z) identify each subplot. They should have text inserted in them that label the CHARACTER and their PHYSICAL GOAL for that subplot. "A" is the main plot and will have the most beats. Across the plate horizontally (in four places) are the traditional beat numbers (1-13 Major Beats), and a few ancillary beats explained in the Story Structure Basics post. The light blue vertical spaces indicate PINCH POINTS (PP) where the antagonist creates a challenge for the protagonist. They escalate from left to right. The dark blue vertical spaces indicate TURNING POINTS (TP) where the protagonist actually takes action to change the direction of the story, because of the Pinch Points. The gray spaces between the blue columns are sequences of multiple scenes that set up the PP or TB. The theory behind this "IDEAL" structure is that there is never a dull moment in your story, and there is a regular emotional roller coaster effect from beginning to end. The actual dynamics of the story, however, will not look this regular. This is theory, don't try to match it exactly. 


This is what the a completed beat plate may look like just prior to writing... obviously here without any of the text in the boxes (this is an actual beat plate for a client, used with permission). Notice all the white boxes in the main "A" plot. The plot lines A, B, C, and D all belong to the protagonist. Subplots T–Z belong to other characters, one of which is an institution (Z). The number of beats for the protagonist (A–D) is close to the number of beats for all the other subplots combined (T–Z).   The white boxes that are not in the A plot are notes and not actual beats. 

I hope you can see the advantage of BEAT PLATE 8000 compared TRADITIONAL CARDS. The completed beat plate lets you easily examine the beats's interplay and chronological juxtaposition of events, that the index cards on a table do not allow. 

And, yes, the rows in this BEAT PLATE 8000 (e.g the 8 beats/cards in the orange row) correspond to the column of 8 orange cards in the INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER ARC BREAKDOWNS graphic.   (But don't try to correlate the other columns with the beat plate above. The orange column and the orange row both having 8 beats was entirely coincidental. 

If you want me to help you on your story or script, see my Script Consulting Page.