Friday, May 6, 2016

Screen Writing For Beginners, As Told Through Aliens!

The following is a kind of overly simplified explanation as to how your basic movie script story is broken down, that I originally wrote to someone, who asked my advice on the subject. There is of course a lot to add to this conversation, but if you've never written a script before and want to try, this may be a good jumping off point. I hope it helps. Here it is:

So, telling a good story is a many layered thing, and like learning to draw or play an instrument, you have to suck at it before you can get good. I don't even know if I'm that good, but I think I know enough to keep things entertaining.

The first thing to understand about most stories is that they're broken down into three acts. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but three is the standard and you should stick with that number until you understand why. The Quantum Terror is in three acts. Each act is like an episode with a cliffhanger, where all the ideas you have introduced at the beginning, come to a head at the end of the act.

I'll used Aliens as an example.

In act one we are reintroduced to Ripley and what her life and attitude is like after the first movie. We see how people interact with her when she tries to tell them what happened, and then we see how she is treated when they start to believe that she may be telling the truth.

They go to the planet and think they've got things under control.

They find Newt who foreshadows how bad things can get, but the marines think, "We've got this." Soon they're in the hive and most of them get wiped out. Ripley saves what is left of them in a huge climatic rescue and boom, the first act is done.

The second act opens with them realizing that the problem is far worse than they imagined and asking themselves "How are we going to handle this?" That's how every second act starts. The characters are forced to rethink their situation and come up with a new plan to deal with it.

The second act is all about the new approach to the problem, and it usually goes pretty well for a bit, even with new problems popping up along the way, until BAM!!!! Everything turns to crap in the second climax. Their ride back to the ship crashed! Lets call the other ship down remotely, because the planet is going to explode soon. The hardware to do that is trashed? Okay, Bishop will have to go out there and do it manually. Stay safe and bolted up in the compound. Wait a minute, Burk is trying to infect Ripley and Newt with a facehugger. Now, Aliens have found a way in. The ride is here, but now everyone is dead and the Aliens just grabbed Newt and took her back to their hive to make more alien babies with. End of second act.

Now everything has fallen apart and things are even worse. The planet is about to blow up. The one solder that could help is out of commission, and Ripley has to go into the belly of the beast to get the one thing she cares about back. Again, Ripley has to rethink everything to get through this. Things get worse. The tracking device on Newt gets dropped. They run into the Alien Queen.

The Alien Queen got on the ship once they escaped and tore Bishop in half.

Ripley has had enough and here comes the big climatic showdown over the daughter that Ripley lost, but has a chance to redeem that loss. Ripley wins. End of act three. End of movie.

Within these acts are highs and lows, like a roller costar taking you up and down. Stay high or low for too long and the story gets boring. But what is the story? All of the stuff I wrote above is just the stuff that happens. That's not story! Okay, so this is the most important thing I'll tell you. Here it is. The story is how each character reacts to the stuff happening, and how it changes them. We have the story of Ripley, who is broken but has to pull herself together to reconcile with her losses to the alien, so that Newt will learn to trust her and not suffer more. There's the story of Bishop, who is silently seeking Ripley's approval.

There's the story of Hudson, who is a punk ass and thinks he's invincible, but turns coward when faced with something tougher than he is. In the end, he even redeems himself when he saves Newt from the facehugger and then later goes down fighting, holding off the Aliens as the rest of his fellows escape. Burk has a story. Hicks has a story. Every last one of them has a story, and each one is reacting to what is happening and also reacting to how they're interacting which each other, as events unfold. Each one of these arcs has a beginning a middle and an end, no matter how things turn out for them. Each one either learns something and grows, or meets their end because they refused to.

The line, "You always were and asshole, Gorman." is really summing up what Vasques has been expressing all along. Watch how she interacts with him, up until that moment. She doesn't respect him. His decisions get her partner killed and make everything worse, confirming her attitude towards him. When she gets burned by acid and trapped by the aliens in an air duct, he redeems himself to her by going back to try to save her and making the choice to sacrifice himself and die with her, rather than leave her to face her fate alone. In that last moment she sees his bravery, and he is redeemed in her eyes. She forgives and respects him, shown by her clasping her hand over his, as he uncorks the grenade that will spare them becoming wombs for the next generation of monsters.

There's really a lot going on in that movie.

If you enjoyed this breakdown, please head on over to The Quantum Terror Facebook and give us a "like" or find us on Twitter @quantumterror. I feel it's going to be a pretty good little indie film. Thanks.