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Thursday
Sep222011

THE INCITING INCIDENT - PART TWO

THE FUNCTION OF THE INCITING INCIDENT

The inciting incident sets up your protagonist’s dramatic desire. The dramatic desire is what your main character wants as a result of the inciting incident. I have picked examples from film, TV and ‘reality’ to illustrate my ramblings.

Dramatic desires can come true

SPEED

Inciting Incident: There’s a bomb on the bus!

Dramatic Desire: Jack Traven wants to get everyone out alive

THE KILLING

Inciting Incident – Nanna is murdered

Dramatic Desire – Sarah Lund wants to find the killer

HOW TO LOOK GOOD NAKED (SERIES 1, EPISODE 8):

Inciting Incident – Dorothy doesn’t look good naked

Dramatic Desire – Dorothy wants to look good naked

To make the most of their journey make sure your character is as far as possible from their end point (i.e. achieving their dramatic desire) at the start.

Get me to the bus on timeSPEED

Jack wants to save all the passengers BUT the bus must stay at above 50 mph or the bomb will explode. It’s rush hour, in LA, oh and Jack isn’t even on the bus.

THE KILLING

Sarah wants to nail this perp BUT there are no forensics, no witnesses and Sarah’s got a plane to catch…

HOW TO LOOK GOOD NAKED

Dorothy wants to feel good about herself BUT she feels fat, dumpy and cellulite lumpy. By her own admission she has hit 'rock bottom'.

 

The dramatic desire creates the through line or spine of the story as the protagonist seeks the solution whilst the antagonist seeks to prevent it.  

They're behind you!

SPEED 

Howard Payne isn't about to let anyone off that bus until he gets his $3.7 million nest egg.

THE KILLING

The murderer wants to throw Sarah off the scent but there are political pressures as well as familial and romantic loyalties that serve to confound our Detective Inspector.

HOW TO LOOK GOOD NAKED

Dorothy believes her thighs are ten inches larger than they are, she’s been wearing a 36B when she’s a 34D and her wardrobe is drab and middle aged. The protagonist is her own worst enemy in HTLGN. 

Because every character is different, the same inciting incident will provoke a different dramatic desire in each of them. This is why films that are built on the same foundations can continue to feel fresh (although I’m not sure this can be said for Speed 2!). 

Next week's installment looks into the inciting incident and the obligatory act.

Thursday
Sep152011

THE INCITING INCIDENT - PART ONE (WITH PICTURES!)

WHAT IS AN INCITING INCIDENT?

The inciting incident is the event that gets the story rolling, the catalyst that incites and captures the audience’s curiosity. It is where a story really begins. Everything that happens prior to this moment is set-up. Everything that follows should be a consequence of, or informed by, the inciting incident. Without the inciting incident there would be no story (i.e. without the arrival of Buzz Lightyear there would be no 'Toy Story')! 

The inciting incident sets up the dramatic question and is therefore often used to hook an audience in as part of the trailer / poster campaign.

EXAMPLES FROM FILM

What if... '... this guy got you pregnant?' '... you caught the train instead of missing it?' '... you were replaced?' 
PS I love using 'Sliding Doors' as an example - Gwyenth's brunette-story is basically Gwyenth's blonde-story sans inciting incident!

EXAMPLES FROM TV

'Who killed Laura Palmer...?' 'Who is to blame...?' 'Who caused the fatal collision...?'

SERIAL DRAMA

In a series with a finite number of episodes there is an inciting incident for each series (which sets up the theme) as well as an inciting incident for each episode.

EG: In 'The Street' the first episode called ‘The Accident’ has an amazing episodic inciting incident (definitely worth watching if you haven't!) which also sets up the theme of the series – that people are, sometimes unwittingly, connected.

CONTINUING DRAMA

In a continuing drama each strand has an inciting incident. If there is a guest strand (i.e. the 'accident of the day' in 'Casualty') this will have an inciting incident, as will the serial strand. Serialised inciting incidents are usually very small (particularly in soaps) as they are often just re-igniting action set up previously. Also having a series of high octane incidents for each character and every storyline four times a week could feel a little over the top!

REALITY TV

Every episode of 'Wife Swap' (the wives swapping), 'SuperNanny' (Jo Frost arriving), 'How to Look Good Naked' (Gok in front of the three-way mirror) and 'The Apprentice' (Alan getting his task on) has the same inciting incident. Make no mistake the inciting incident is everywhere! 

Incite me baby one more time!

Stay tuned for the next week's installment - the function of the inciting incident.

Wednesday
Aug242011

'YOU TALKING TO ME?' - THE TEN RULES OF DIALOGUE

In their book The Tools of Screenwriting, David Howard and Edward Mabley outline their ten rules for writing dialogue: 

1. It must characterize the speaker, and perhaps the person addressed. 

2. It must be idiomatic, maintaining the individuality of the speaker, yet still blend into the style of the screenplay as a whole.

3. It must reflect the speaker’s mood, convey his or her emotion, or provide some window into his or her inner life.

4. It must often reveal the speaker’s motivation or an attempt to hide his or her motivation. 

5. It must reflect the relationships of the speaker to the other characters. 

6. It must be connective, that is grow out of a preceding speech or action and lead into another. 

7. It must advance action.

8. It must sometimes carry information or exposition.

9. Often it must foreshadow what is to come. 

10. It must be clear and comprehensible to the audience.

Monday
Aug222011

WILFRED: THE THINKING MAN'S CANINE

Wilfred the new American import starring Elijah Wood started on BBC3 last week (Tuesdays, 22:30). The thirteen part series follows the lives of Ryan (Elijah Wood) and his neighbour’s dog Wilfred (Jason Gann), the twist being that Ryan sees Wilfred as an Australian man in a dog suit whilst everyone else just sees him as a dog.

David Zuckerman the Showrunner and Executive Producer of Family Guy, created this American adaptation of an Australian television series. Obvious parallels can be drawn between Family’s Guy’s white labrador Brian (“Who do you have to hump to get a dry martini around here?”) and the less cultured Wilfred (“part labrador retriever part Russell Crowe on a bender” according to Zuckerman). But can an offbeat take on Dr Dolittle - where the protagonist can not only walk with the animals and talk with the animals but also smoke bongs, drink Bud and pull birds with the animals – really work?

The pilot kicks the series off with confidence and a laudable lack of exposition. At the end of the first episode we know very little about Ryan, but you can tell a great deal about a man who makes a suicide shake with reduced fat milk and writes four drafts of the accompanying note.  The same goes for Wilfred whose Australian accent, despite having been uprooted to middle America, explains a lot (bar his predilection for Matt Damon flicks). The humour is smart, the concept high and the central relationship great fun.

Unapologetically absurd, the series scores points for not trying to explain or justify the premise – you either go with it or you don’t. However, it is this quirky concept that is both Wilfred’s doing and its undoing. It’s great to hear from the voiceless domestic pet and Wilfred, like a smutty Garfield, tells it like it is. But can thirteen episodes be sustained on this unusual point of access alone? With the first two episodes ‘Happiness’ and ‘Trust’ already feeling repetitive in places, could this be a one trick puppy? The series is based on Gann's 2002 short film http://video.tvguide.com/Wilfred/Short+Film/702849 and feels more suited to this territory or as a one-off feature. So... does this mutt have legs? I, for one, will continue watching to find out.

 

Friday
Aug052011

COMING UP WITH THE GOODS

A showcase for short film writers and directors the Coming Up season on Channel Four is all about ‘supporting and building relationships with new talent’. Ten years since the launch does it still remain true to its initial aim to encourage dramas with ‘bold ideas’, ‘strong voices’, ‘originality’, ‘ambition’ and ‘wit’? Four episodes in and, so far, I’m impressed.

Although this series allows us little more than a glimpse (the longest film is just 25 minutes long) into four very different worlds, the stories are sharp and cohesive. To answer the time constraints the writer, director teams have used an effective shorthand, incorporating great visuals (a crate full of ham-hung humans and a Caesarean scar peeping through the bubble bath) with easy to recognise character traits (Mary’s grip on her can of Special Brew and Martha’s no-go-zone around the carpet). Despite this, some viewers have expressed frustration that the credits roll too soon; their main bug bear being that they want to know ‘what happens next’. It’s true that some of the stories don’t end neatly but I think it's refreshing to find open-ended, thought provoking short films like these. A curiosity about what happens next suggests an audience’s imagination has been captured, unlike recent offerings (The Killing, The Hour) where the story is flogged until we're beyond caring.

Interestingly none of the filmmakers chose particularly likeable protagonists - Kelly is a petulant ex-addict, Tommy a shambolic murderer, Micah a player and ‘English man’ effectively a terrorist bomber. It may be easier to ‘plug in’ to a heroic hero but the characters in this series feel much more realistic because of their flaws. An audience has to empathise with a protagonist but they do not have to be nice. There’s no drama in nice. If the lack of do-gooders hasn’t put some viewers off, the strong language and the gritty themes of the series might, but I applaud a scheme which not only gives new writers a forum but to also let them run with their ideas and explore them in an authentic and powerful way.