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Advice/opinion needed on movie script idea

Discussion in 'Original Fiction Discussion' started by Dante, Mar 13, 2014.

  1. Dante

    Dante Slug Club Member

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    I want to write a movie screenplay. It would be written in my native language, Lithuanian as the Lithuanian movie "industry" doesn't really have many good screenwriters, resulting in 1 or 2 good movies made in the country each year.

    On the surface, the movie is about mental manipulation (hypnosis, suggestion and all that stuff) and it's consequences. The main character, a girl in her late teens/early twenties, has a mother with terminal cancer, brain tumors to be specific. Her father left after the cancer got diagnosed. She finds a hypnotist who claims to be able to cure addiction, lessen pain and make you see unicorns. The girl brings her half-dead mother to the guy, lets him know that she's not very hopeful that he will succeed, warns him that if his methods don't help but he takes her mother's money anyway, she will make him regret it.

    During the procedure, the girl is kept out of the room. Inside, everything seems to go well, until the mother seizes up and starts shaking. The hypnotist runs out, tells the daughter to call an ambulance. The mother dies en route to the hospital. Thinking that the hypnotist is at fault, she starts telling everybody who will listen that it was his fault. The hypnotist gets questioned by the police. They let him go. Coroner's report should come in a day or two later, funeral arrangements should be made so she goes home, has a drink. While going to get the report a day or two later, her car malfunctions, she has a very bad car crash, leaving her in a coma for some years.

    She almost miraculously wakes up. At first, she's groggy but when she gets her bearings, she remembers that the car was out of control. She contacts the police, asks them what was wrong with her car. The police found alcohol in her bloodstream so they didn't see the need to examine the totaled car. She tells them that she suspects the hypnotist of doing something to it but is brushed off because he's a well-liked celebrity of sorts these days, similar to Derren Brown in the UK.

    Now, the girl has two choices: move to another city to rehab together with her apologetic father and his new family; or seek revenge on the hypnotist. She chooses the second option, so on a deeper level, the movie is about revenge.

    Then, a couple of days later, the girl is approached by a dude her father's age who leads a group of people who's mission is to ruin psychics, hypnotists and all other "scam-artists" they deem dangerous enough. Here, she finds a new family of like-minded individuals and a new father figure in the leader. Using her sensational awakening from a coma as a springboard, the group picks the hypnotist as their next target. While publicly blaming him for the death of the girl's mother, the girl orders an examination of her totaled car. It seems that the public actually believes that the hypnotist is guilty. The group has won, they ruined the hypnotist but he can't be charged due to lack of evidence. The leader pushes for extreme measures - actually attacking the guy. The girl refuses. Secretly, the leader and a couple of his friends go through with his plan, severely beating him.

    After getting out of the hospital, the hypnotist thinks that it was the girl who planned the attack, goes to her place to confront her alone. At practically the same time, she receives the results of the examination, finds out her car WAS tampered with. During the confrontation, having heard the accusations, she immediately realizes what the leader did. He loses his moral high-ground in her eyes for going against her. The hypnotist swears that nothing went wrong during the hypnosis. The girl throws the results back in his face. He's confused. Turns out, the guy was attending a seminar on the other side of the country because he wanted to ask a mentor of his if he might have possibly had anything to do with the death of her mother. He's in the audience on the youtube video.

    The girl accepts that he's innocent. Tells him that she had nothing to do with the beating he took but she has a suspicion who did and poses the question of who messed with her car. The hypnotist asks her if she remembers something weird happening before the crash, she doesn't. He offers to hypnotize her to possibly help her remember. After thinking about it, she accepts. It doesn't take at first, they talk some more until she trusts him more, it finally succeeds. She remembers seeing a now familiar face at the police station - the leader. He was a cop at the time, could have easily got all the information about the case. One thing remaining in the mystery - why?

    After some digging around on the Internet, they find out that the guy had a bad experience with hypnosis, psychics or something similar (need to figure this out, guys). As Sherlock Holmes said, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. The girl contacts the guys who advocated for milder approach vs. the hypnotist, gathers her allies and goes to confront the leader. Using some clever psychological tricks that the hypnotist taught her, she makes him admit everything. During the whole time, she was on a line with police, they heard everything. They storm the place, arrest the bad guy.

    After everything is over, the girl and her friends who helped with the confrontation of the leader, travel the world, busting psychics and similar quacks, she has mended her relationship with her father, forgiven the hypnotist.

    So basically, the movie looks like a story about hypnosis and all that stuff, when you go a little deeper, it's about revenge and if you dig further, it's about forgiveness and family (not necessarily of the blood-relation type) being the way to happiness.

    What do you guys think? Obviously, it needs much fleshing out. After I figure out these bare bones, I'm going to story board the hell out of it. When that is done, will start writing. What logical fallacies can you see? Is it too simplistic? Too complicated? Unoriginal? Boring? Too... all over the place? Shred it to pieces DLP-style, please :) Would you go see this movie if it was made? Would you like it?

    P.S. How's my English these days? Starting to feel as if it's atrophied a little bit in the last year or so.
     
  2. Jeram

    Jeram Elder of Zion DLP Supporter

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    Do you want to be accurate about hypnosis? It's actually a real thing, not like in the movies though.
     
  3. Dante

    Dante Slug Club Member

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    I want to be as accurate as possible. If you assume that Derren Brown does not use stooges in his shows, then the story wouldn't really need anything beyond the effects he already achieved. And furthermore, the story should be memorable for that plot twist or for the way it made you feel when you left the cinema, not for some cool hypnosis trick you saw...
     
  4. LittleChicago

    LittleChicago Death Eater DLP Supporter

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    Your English is better than some native speakers I've read, so don't worry about that.

    The story itself is actually fairly interesting; I love the idea of mental manipulation and putting one over on folks, and the bigger question of what's real, what's imaginary, what can be trusted? But you don't go overboard like a lot of Hollywood-type tales, where everything is a dream and no one can be trusted. Those movies can be fun and thrilling when they're done well, but doing them well is difficult and ultimately, they're overdone these days and just tiresome, so good on you for only having one or two layers of betrayal and mistrust.

    Now, I have exactly zero familiarity with Lithuanian cinema, so this is going to be North-American type advice. If there are stylistic and cultural details I'm missing, apologies in advance.

    With that in mind, a few more detail questions. Since this is going to be a film, I wonder about your ideas for the visuals? Is it bright and clear, emphasizing details, is it dark and depressing, leading to the audience missing things on purpose? Will there be lots of music, or is it largely silent? Claustrophobic settings, lots of close-ups, or more wide-angle, overwhelmed feeling? In short, what images are you hoping to confront the audience with?

    In a novel, you can paint whatever picture you want with words and be as definite or vague as you feel the reader needs; in a film, you have no choice; everything has to be definite if it's going to be on the screen, or heard. You need to decide exactly how much the audience is going to see, and more importantly, HOW they are going to see it. I've only ever written two screenplays, and the dialogue was not the hard part - the stage directions were.

    As for the story itself; I'd like to know how much contact the girl has with her father. She obviously has a lot of conflicting emotions about him and what he has done to her and her mother. Is she always angry with him? Does she miss him? Does she speak with him rarely, often? If she's trying, even sub-consciously, to replace him, what is it that she needs to replace so badly? Is she looking for a strong father-figure in contrast to the man she sees as a coward who ran away? Is there a physical resemblance only? Does she just want someone to include her and "be there"? And conversely, what does the father think of her? Of himself? Is he a jerk, does he feel bad about leaving? Was it something a long time in coming, and the cancer just happened to pop up at the same time?

    Everyone here has watched an otherwise good story fall apart because the characters' motivations were unclear, and they seemed to act out of character. Her mother isn't around long enough for the audience to understand their relationship; the father-daughter aspect is the central relationship, and we, as the audience, need to sympathise with them, or relate to them, or at the very least understand them. How will he react when he hears that she woke up?

    Understanding their relationship may help you come up with some characterisation and plot details.

    The second most prominent relationship is the girl and the hypnotist - not the debunker. The hypnotist is around longer, and has a bigger impact on her life. However, he is not family, he's an outsider, so exploring that relationship in detail wouldn't fit the theme of family quite so well, at least not until she decides to trust him. At that point, he can open up all you want, but until then, I'd keep him mysterious.

    As for the debunker/former cop... his experience that turned him to this life is his defining moment. making it a secret reveal for the end doesn't do the character justice. And it's not something I think could be hidden anyway; anything life-altering enough to lead him to a prominent place with a group dedicated to de-bunking this sort of thing is a story the whole group would know at least part of.

    Perhaps a psychic tried to convince his wife that her mother forgave her for something from beyond the grave, something she hadn't blamed herself for, and in a sudden fit of guilt committed suicide? No, that sucks...

    Who knows... Watch Shutter Island or read some re-caps of The Mentalist episodes for better ideas. People in sensitive mental states can be manipulated and harmed rather easily (which is kind of the point here, isn't it?)

    Anyway, just my $0.02.
     
  5. Riley

    Riley Alchemist DLP Supporter

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    My two cents:

    The first half is very much first person while the second half is third person. It's a good idea and I'm a huge fan of pushing local growth in Cinema so my advice to you is:

    1) Rewrite this as if you are going to speak it and act it to an audience. As in, write it out in more detail but add in lines that you've spoken aloud, along with all the passive action notes you've got there.

    2) Cut it in half. No seriously, cut it in half. I guarantee by the time you finish writing a treatment, this will be HUGE in terms of amount of screen time needed to portray the full movie.

    3) Figure out setting for everything, utilize your feet, a car and google maps if you have to, but you need to figure out and detail your setting so you know exactly where it's happening. If you want to turn it into a film, you can't get away with "oh, that wall is in the way, let's turn the camera slightly this way." That's extra work and as a new director, extra work is not something you want.

    4) Dialogue, figure out who you characters were and who they will become and think about how this will affect their speech. Is your hypnotist a douchebag, if so, does he sound like a douchebag?

    5) Action cuts, love the shit out of them and realize that anytime your character does something, there will be one and you'll be ok with it. Film is about the portrayal of static and active moments in time through conversation and action.

    6) Seriously though, setting and detail are huge. You can't afford to wing it, so writing everything out will give you a reference point. Reference points are amazing, trust me.

    7) Get a continuity editor for both writing and on-scene work. It'll keep you from making mistakes later on that have to be edited which is a bitch.

    8 )Don't be afraid to ask for help. We, as a community, love to help (for the most part, unless you're acting like a dick, which you aren't).

    If I can think of more, I'll edit this. In the meantime, writing about it more will definitely help you.
     
  6. Dante

    Dante Slug Club Member

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    Going by paragraph, thanks for the comment about my English. Means a lot :)

    Adressing you concerns about overdoing the mental manipulation, there shouldn't actually be that much of that stuff in the story. It's... a tool by which the story believably movies in an interesting direction. If it's over the top, it becomes unrealistic and that messes with the message of the story.

    Lithuanian cinema doesn't really exist. Of (off?) the top of my head, I can name four big movies made by Lithuanian filmmakers. One of the is a remake of Young People Fucking. The other Lithuanian movies were made without any consideration if anybody's actually going to watch them. I want people to actually see it.

    Visuals... I have to confess that this would be the first movie I am writing. Don't have any experience at all, but from what I've read in literature (Richard Walter, Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, John Truby) stuff like shots and visuals aren't really my problem. It's the director's and set designer's. If, for example, Jane Doe tips a flower pot from her balcony and it drops on Vladimir Putin's head starting World War III, and the movie is about that, I write it down. If, however, she tips a flower pot and nothing essential to the story happens, I don't write about it. Sure, a screenplay is essentially a manual for shooting a film where everything that is seen or heard by the audience is described, but if it's not absolutely essential to the story, I leave it out. Something about cooperation between different branches of the film industry, I think. From what my uncle who's been an actor in Lithuania for longer than I've been born says, directors often ignore those descriptions entirely because hey, they are "artists" too. Why write something not absolutely essential?

    The father-daughter relationship needs to be fleshed out and considered before I can answer. Just realized that no idea is original, something similar-ish happened in my own life. Here goes originality, huh? :D

    The hypnotist should be a somewhat mysterious and elusive enemy she feels she has to defeat (by the way, it's "she" because I have feeling that a guy would approach the whole situation differently and the story wouldn't be possible at all). Like a false-enemy.

    Debunker's motivations for... well, debunking stuff should be know soon after the character is introduced. The backstory you mentioned actually is similar to the first idea I had when I thought of the whole thing, while watching Richard Dawkins interview Derren Brown on mediums and how they work on youtube. This part also needs to be worked out.

    So yeah, lots of work remains to be done. Lots and lots of work. Still, assuming that motivations and the whole backstory is fleshed out, is the story interesting enough for people to see it? That's the big question.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for the long reply. Do you think my English is good enough to actually translate it in English once it's written and try to sell it to a bigger market without completely embarassing myself? Probably hard to tell from my 30-hours-without-sleep-ramblings, but hey, doesn't hurt to ask, does it? :D

    EDIT: While I was typing up the reply for LittleChicago, Riley Poole replied too. Here's to some more writing! Thanks for numbering your concerns, makes it much easier to write.
    1) This is nothing that could in any way be called a screenplay. At most, it's preparation for story boarding, meaning that I'm trying to get an idea of what's happening before I start putting up post-its on the back of a spare mirror I have in my room. On the post-its, there will be short descriptions of what's happening in the scene, emotional change that's achieved with that specific scene and it's conflict. After I get that done, I will flesh it out more, describing what happens. Only when that's done for all scenes will I start writing the actual screenplay with dialogue and all that awesome stuff. According to books I read, the theory is that by that point, I should know the world and the characters so well, that it will be much easier to actually give them different voices and make them act as that character would act, if you get what I mean with my... weird ramblings.
    2) This will be where the fun begins, I think. It's always better to have more stuff than you need. Will keep what's necessary, will cut what's not. Will check if it all works. If it doesn't, back to the drawing board.
    3) Last semester, I had a course called something like... "Basics of Directing". That stuff is not for me. Had to take the dialogue from the last scene of "Coffee and Cigarettes" (Link) and adapt it for a different setting, different characters, different action and all that extremely fun stuff. Then, had to direct two classmates. Thank God I was the only one in the class who took the assignment seriously and came prepared to each lecture, because the professor basically directed it for me. I love story. If its bare bones work, I am happy to award the headache of actually making it happen to some poor sod who actually likes doing that kind of stuff:D If you guys, want, I could actually translate the final "screenplay" and post it here.
    4) I am hoping that it will come with time and deep submerging (can I use that word in this context?) of myself into the story.
    5) Director's problem, I think. I will try to make sure that every line, every word of the script is actually needed to move the characters to where they want/have to be. I realize that this sounds very... artsy? :D
    6) That precise details come after I have my scenes on post-its and every post-it needs to be elaborated on. Should be easier to cut stuff when it's just a concept, not actual action and dialogue written on Celtx. At least that's the theory. Will see if it works, I guess.
    7) Oh, yeah, that will be a bitch. Might have to bring out the proven theory of let's put it in a drawer for a week and then comeback. I don't know why, but after sometime passes, everything that used to sound so good suddenly is shit.
    8) Oh, you guys are probably my most trusted story critics. While it's not a full on screenplay, I will probably annoy you to death with my criticism-begging :D Might even translate this thing to English and post it somewhere for you to read before I try to sell it too.

    Thanks, Riley :)

    P.S. Had a feeling that awesome will come once Americans wake up. Proves I'm right! :D
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2014
  7. Riley

    Riley Alchemist DLP Supporter

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    The short answer: Yes

    The long answer: It could be interesting but the execution is what gains the stamp of approval in film
     
  8. Dante

    Dante Slug Club Member

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    Yes, yes, and yes :D Suddenly feel like Daniel Bryan. Thankfully, don't have the beard...
     
  9. Riley

    Riley Alchemist DLP Supporter

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    Ah hah, so you're primary focus is writing, not directing. That's not quite my area of expertise, I'm much more comfortable in a director's chair so most of my comments probably felt like they were coming from a Director's POV, that's why. If you need help there, just PM me or hit me on IRC. I'm trying to write, but I slack too much there.
     
  10. Dante

    Dante Slug Club Member

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    Principle #1: All writers hate to write. :D
     
  11. Zennith

    Zennith Pebble Wrestler Prestige

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    Here's the honest truth. Plot barely matters. I mean, it matters a little, but not that much. It's how you do it that counts. If you write well enough, you can make almost any plot concept work.

    Write the dialogue. Focus on it. Practice it over and over again. That's all you have to tell your story. Visuals are great, but the truth is we learn most of what we'll know based on a few words. Scripts are simultaneously easier and harder than fiction writing. You don't have to write all that descriptive stuff, yet you don't GET to write all that descriptive stuff that tells us what we need to know. Listen to how people talk in real life, be open. Think about subtext, think about how we usually carry on like, three conversations with another person at the same time, conversations aren't really all that logical when spelled out.

    Oh, and this. This is bad. It doesn't sound artsy, it sounds boring. People don't act that way in real life. There's extraneous noise everywhere, both physically and vocally. Don't ignore it. It's a part of life, and without it things seem fake/false.



    Annnnd finally: careful. While I don't think anyone on DLP would be a dick and steal your story, if you're planning on selling it, don't post it in its entirety (or even majority) here or anywhere else online. Just be safe. I've had scripts I'd have loved to post for feedback, but it scares me - I'm a playwright in real life, so I can't risk that stuff gets out/goes anywhere I don't want it to. It can happen. So yeah. Careful.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2014
  12. Dante

    Dante Slug Club Member

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    Yes, you can make a story about genetically modified Teletetubbies who come to earth, resulting in a genocide of iguanas and bunnies but why would you want to put the effort in if the idea is shit in the first place? :D

    If you write how people really talk, with all the ahhs, uhms and errrs, as well as with lots of monologues, it will look really boring on screen. 10 seconds is a long time for a shot where nothing's happening, only people talk. The three conversations at the same time sounds like the first scene of The Social Network. It could have been very boring, but the character was offensive enough for it to create drama, I guess.

    I am not saying that extraneous noise isn't needed. It's just not really the screenwriter's job, from what I've seen. Maybe it's different with playwriting, because from what I've read, the playwright's word is law in theater, they perform it as written. My goal is for every scene to have a begging, middle and an end, after which some kind of conflict had happened, expressed solely with meaningful action and necessary dialogue. Hoping that the director and actors will fill the void of extraneous noise. Maybe I'm being idealistic but that's what everybody goes through at the beginning, when everything's unicorns and rainbows...

    To be frank, it's unlikely that my writing in English will be good enough to be stolen. Might be in Lithuanian, but there's an agency for intellectual property protection, plus, according to everyone I know who has anything to do with Lithuanian entertainment industry, there are NO good scripts trying to sell. Most often, director want to make a movie but don't have a script, so they start writing it themselves. Which takes a long time, delaying the movie.
     
  13. Zennith

    Zennith Pebble Wrestler Prestige

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    To be fair, I'd just be fascinated if someone made that good! :p

    Nah, but really, the point I was making is just that dialogue is the most important thing, IMO.


    Sorkin is a good example. Read up on some David Mamet, too. The reason this is helpful is that it's honest. And it works with pacing as long as you're also true to the fact that people talk over one another, too. Honesty, really, is what you want. It's what makes a story matter, it's what makes us care, even in relative sci-fi settings or fantastical storylines. There needs to be something human.


    And this... I disagree. Starting in the beginning of every conversation is boring. You can start in the middle or end in the middle and have it be far more effective. Your goal shouldn't be to spoon feed us everything - rather, giving us the opportunity to draw our own associations makes us far more invested. In other words, make the audience work for it a little bit. Let them be active participants in the creating of the story, rather than making them passive observers. What you describe is simply too neat, at least for me. The goal isn't to make a bunch of perfect tightly-knit self-contained scenes. It's to make a movie that is, at the end, more than simply the sum of its parts.
     
  14. Dante

    Dante Slug Club Member

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    Good luck making it good, though :D

    Yeah, the audience has to empathize with the characters and their trouble, can't do that when it has nothing to do with reality of human nature.

    By beginning, I don't mean the beginning of the conversation. You can start the scene at the third hour of a three hour conversation, where a boy slips up and calls his girlfriend fat. That's the beginning. They argue. That's the middle. Girl takes a knife, cuts out his appendix and feeds it to him, then walks away covered in blood, grinning like a psycho. That's the end. Next scene, she's walking home when a police car drives by, stops. That's the beginning. They question her. That's the middle. They arrest her. That's the end. That's what I mean by beginning, middle and end. Starting a scene where a boy is on a first date with a girl by him saying "Hello, Emily" and the usual conversation following is boring. Everybody already knows how first dates go. Just start it from the moment where something interesting happens. Maybe Emily drops something on her lap and puts her legs together on reflex (saw/read a story/fairytale a loooooooong time ago, where that's how a boy was found out), making our poor hero think that his date used to be Emilio... :D

    EDIT: And the scenes should build up on each other. If doesn't help move the story where it needs to go, cut it out. It's the biggest problem with bad fanfiction. People just write stuff that has nothing to do with the story they want to tell, making me skim to important parts...
     
  15. Invictus

    Invictus Prisoner

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    I'm with Zennith. Dialogues, characters interaction is fundamental. Ever saw Pulp Fiction? Best dialogues ever, he makes a conversation about McDonalds hamburgues sounds interesting and cool, even though it has nothing to do with the plot. How and why? Because it show us the characters, their personalities and quirks. Never forget that dialogues can do that more subtle and deeper than actions.

    Conversations aren't a story by itself, no need to treat them like one. They need a purpose, it just doesn't need to be perfectly clear.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2014