This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 400 – The Spin In The Story.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #400 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. So well, 400 episodes, frankly I’m surprised I have put out this many episodes. I started the podcast almost eight years ago and it’s really been a great experience, and I really wanna thank everyone who does listen to it every week. I get a number of emails from people, and it’s always really heart- warming and encouraging. So, thank you to everyone who has listened to it and sent me very kind, nice emails. I do really appreciate it, and I hope I can continue to bring some value to the screenwriting community. Here’s to another 400 episodes. So we’re gonna do something a little bit different for the 400th episode.
Today, I am talking with Richard Finney, who is a screenwriter and producer, and he’s also one of our industry judges for SYS Six Figure Screenplay Contest. So first off, a big thanks to Richard for coming on the show today. It’s well over two hours. So it took a lot of Richard’s time and he spent a lot of time preparing for it as well. So again, a big thanks to Richard. And if you like these source of podcast episodes, please do let me know and perhaps we can try and do more of these types of episodes in the future. So today, Richard and I are talking about Concept. Coming up with a marketable concept and then choosing the correct first act spin, to make that concept as marketable and satisfying for the audience as possible.
We’re gonna be digging into a number of well-known films, lots of spoilers. So if you’re worried about spoilers, I’d say, turn the podcast off as soon as you hear us mention a film that you still wanna see. But in general, these films are all well known, so my guess is most of the people who listen to this podcast have seen all of these films. And if you haven’t, I would say definitely check them out. I mean, these are classic films that anybody in the film industry, anybody, any screenwriter should definitely have a pretty good idea about what these films are all about. The specific films we are gonna be discussing are, Back To The Future, Star Wars episode four, Saving Private Ryan, Alien, Groundhog Day, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shawshank Redemption, Psycho and then we’re gonna mention some TV writing as well, and we’ll look at shows Breaking Bad and Dexter.
So, all of that is gonna be discussed, as I said, with Richard. And really with just an eye on sort of the concept and then what that first act spin did to really enhance that concept. So stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for episode number 400.
If you want my free guide. How to sell screenplay in five weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I’ll teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay, in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional log line and query letter, and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I am talking with writer, director and producer Richard Finney. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Richard to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming back on the show with me today.
Richard: Oh, I’m very glad, very happy to be back. Hey, I had a good time the first time, so I’m glad to be back.
Ashley: Well, thank you. That’s great. So, earlier in this summer, we talked about your background and how you got into the business. So I encourage people to check out that episode, if they wanna learn a little bit more about your background as a writer and a producer. It’s Episode #387. I will link to that in the show notes. But today we’re gonna talk about, specifically about screenwriting and two things, which I think you feel is often a mistake that screenwriters make. And that’s coming up with a good idea and then the really good twist or spin that moves or expands that idea into a really marketable premise for a film. So let’s just go ahead and get started. Maybe to start, you can kind of lay out the groundwork for what sort of the premise of this whole discussion is gonna be.
Richard: Oh, great. I think it’s that you set it up totally perfectly. I would say as a producer, one of the things that I often see, is a situation where almost out of the gate. I can sit there and rule that screenplay out before I read it. And if not, before I read it, after like the first 20 pages. And basically it boils down and this is frankly, beginning screenwriters, fledgling screenwriters and veteran screenwriters. Basically it boils down to, look, you have to have, in this day and age, a really good idea that has something that sits there and tantalizes and makes it a really attractive thing that somebody will want to first of all, invest in it, as far as be participating money wise. Also acting wise, directing wise, studio wise. And these things, often are just kind of like, oh, I have this, this sounds kind of cool, let me go start working on this.
And then as it, the script goes out there, you kind of like, oh, writer might be shocked. What’s going on? Why am I…? And basically what’s happening is, you’re not sitting there working enough on, hey, this is the idea. This is where it’s going to go, and basically it’s about, what is your story about? And a lot of times, what I find is, I can immediately say, oh, okay, well, there you are. That’s not gonna work, or I’ve seen that a billion times. And so basically what we’re trying to say is, what can you do to sit there and look at certain projects that you’re gonna write, that you’re gonna invest all this time? What can you do to make sure it’s the right project to invest in, so that down the line, you… And here’s the other thing. When you figure this part out, and it’s really solid, it ends up like return on the investment because it’s easier to write.
It’s easier to sit there and it just returns the investment because you are going to be able to do a rewrite a year later, because you’re being paid to do it perhaps. And you can return back to that well, because that original thing was so good. So bottom line is, is that I feel like, hey, so why don’t we talk about some classic, really good movies. Also, hey, let’s bring what I’ve just recently done to the forefront and say, “Hey, this is what I was thinking when I was doing this. So I can kind of shed some light on what I think as a producer. Now, I’m looking at scripts and I’m saying, “This, I wanna read this.” Or, “I don’t wanna read this,” or, “I’m done reading this.” That’s actually why we’re talking [laughs].
Ashley: Yes. Yes. And I know a lot of screenwriters will be very happy to have this information. So maybe you can just define what exactly it is and then let’s dive into some specific examples.
Richard: Okay. Very cool. So listen, so bottom line is, you start with your concept for a script. Okay. Which may or may not include at the beginning of coming up with your idea, what I will call, the first act spin. Later on, I’ll refer to it just simply as the spin. And I call it the spin simply because at the point where we’re, what we’re talking about, a lot of times, not all the time and there’s gonna be exceptions to almost everything I say, by the way. The spin usually is, why I refer to it that way is, because a lot of times when an audience person is watching and knows nothing about the movie that they’re sitting down and watching, which of course is almost never the case nowadays, but let’s just imagine that, that they would not necessarily know where the story is going to go, when the spin hits, meaning that the spin goes in this really different direction.
Okay. But the thing that we’re gonna really be talking about is, there are concepts. There are, I wanna do this, and this is the setup, and then the spin though. That’s the important part, because at, if you don’t have both a lot, and they work in tandem, so sometimes you might have something and you don’t have the other, but usually you don’t have either. And the bottom line then is that, what you’re doing with the right one, as we will talk about with other films, and I will humbly talk to you about what I have done. Is to say, hey, this is what I have created concept wise, spin wise, where now I can tell the rest of the story, and I believe that the audience is gonna be with me. The executive is gonna be with me. The director is going to say, “Hey, what happens next?” You know?
And so that’s actually very, it’s very simple. It’s very straightforward, but that’s why in many ways, it’s frustrating to sit there and say, “Hey, look, you got to do this.” This is really, really important. And it’s more important now, than ever before because there are so much competition for audiences. If they don’t see something that I’m talking about right there, they’re not gonna wanna see your movie and they’re not gonna wanna continue. Because part of this is also about execution, but we’ll get into that. So that’s the basic, very basic thing that we’re gonna be talking about.
Ashley: Okay. And I, before we called, we had been emailing. And you mentioned a vampire project that you had worked on, and that sort of illustrated the point. I mean, there was some interesting things, sort of the setup. It sounds like you wrote kind of a bigger version of the movie and you guys decided to write a smaller version. But maybe you can relay that onto it, because I think giving an example like that, will actually help sort of, help the audience sort of grasp exactly what you’re talking about and how you worked through it as a writer.
Richard: Right, and I totally hear you. I think that one of the reasons why this might be effective is like, whenever we’re talking about a movie, looking at it and everything that has already been established and has been classic and everything, it’s like almost like an autopsy where you kind of know and it’s easier to say in hindsight why this works, why this is great and all this kind of stuff. And so, I think starting out with something that I’ve worked on, that has not been shot, but it starts with the process where I’m like going, okay, this is what I was faced with, and dah, dah, dah, it kind of like says, “Hey, this is like, I’m just like you [laughs] another screenwriter, trying to break the spine of a project that I want to write that I had to write, frankly, and we had to move forward.
So basically, I had written a book years and years and years ago and the promise very quickly was vampires take over the world, and they enslave humans in concentration camps, so that they can like get them their blood. And the whole thing was, men to be like the great escape in a vampire world, and the vampires are the Nazis and human, the humans that are not vampires are the prisoners and the big, okay, so we’ll use it for the very first time. The spin in that project was that the main character and the female character were, got together and said, let’s work together to get an escape and let’s work together to get an escape, not just us, but everybody in this prisoner camp. And that was the project that I worked on that attracted the eyes of financiers and people that were very much interested.
But they could not finance that bigger project. So they came back to me and said, “Hey, so can we do something smaller that is in this universe?” And so I said, “Yeah.” Because there was something that I had been playing around with, but had not really kind of played out, and so this was what I was faced with, how do I do something that is much smaller? I mean, we’re looking at trying to do something for a couple million dollars now. Two or three million dollars or even less. But at the same time as in the universe, so you establish the same universe because the goal was to do this smaller thing, then return back to the bigger thing. Okay. Meaning that the smaller thing was gonna be successful. So, I sat there and eventually pitched and they loved it, but here was the problem.
So I sat there and I said, what do we do? Okay. I had this situation where I thought, it would be really cool if a vampire had freed one of the human prisoners in one of these concentration camps, but now they’re together and there’s going to be not a road trip, but it’s gonna start on the road, and then we’re gonna ride very quickly someplace. But what is the setup? The setup is, he says, there was this woman that I was working with, that I was in love with, that we got separated right when the takeover occurred. And I haven’t heard from her, but I know where in the general way, where she was. I wanna go over there and then we’ll do whatever you want me to do. And she’s like, “Okay, cool, I’ll help you with that.” And so as the movie begins, that’s where they’re headed.
They get there. And when they get there, they discover that she is a hostage for this master vampire. And the master vampire is keeping all these different hostages. He is restrained from the more other vampires and everything that are running everything in the world and concentration camps and everything. He’s got his little five team and he’s got his thing and he’s got this girl. And so the thing though is, that the female vampire, Heroin says, “Hey, look, you know what? I can’t take him on, he’s too powerful. I don’t know what to do, but we can’t take her by force, this hostage that you care for.” And he sits there and he says, “Well, what happens then is, they discover that there’s another vampire who has a history with the master vampire, and she is doing the same thing, not very far away.
And basically what happens is, the two heroes, the female vampire and our human hero, they say, “Why don’t we work these two against each other, and in the chaos that would ensue, we’ll sit there and grab this person that I care for, and we’re off on our way?” So that’s the plan and then they go off to try to make execute that. When they decide, this is what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna work these two off of each other, that is the actual spin that then spins the story through to the rest of the thing. Now, I will not pat myself on the back and say to myself, “Oh…” I’m not saying to anybody, “Oh, I came up with that and I’m so brilliant.” No, of course not. The reality is that sometime before, I have always been, I actually took Japanese film class when I was in Cal State Northridge [laughs] and I loved Yojimbo.
And Yojimbo was, has that basic premise. And it’s such a great film that Sergio Leone eventually very, or very quickly, grabbed that basic premise and used it for the very first [inaudible 00:16:43] with Spaghetti Western, which was a Fitful of Dollars. And it’s also even just been redone. It was about 10 years ago with Walter Hill, doing Bruce Willis as Last Man Standing. So this is what I did. I took a basic kind of premise that had been kind of like all these [inaudible 00:17:05] and I said, this will work with what I’m going for. And what I did then was, I made it my own. And that is in many ways, exactly what you have to do, because yes, a lot of stuff, everything, oh, it’s all been done before, right. But the reality is, you can still take a template, a plot line and put it into your thing.
And then, that’s what you use to sit there and bring your originality, your creative spirit, your creative execution to the project. This is done all the time, and basically that was what I did. So blah, blah, blah, blah, three or four months later, turn out the script. Everybody loves it, blah, blah, blah. Okay. So circumstances did not allow for the things to actually get shot. But absolutely, when I got this done and I would talk to people about it and pitch it and everything like that, I had got this really great, “Oh, that’s so cool,” dah dah dah, basically because people could see the storyline. They could see the possibilities. They could see how that was really cool. Then of course, it’s up to me to actually execute in the script.
But remember it is for fledgling writers and even veteran writers to get somebody to actually read your script, you’ve got to pitch them something that even sounds promising.
Ashley: A couple of things. I just, you used the word premise at the beginning of this. And are you’re interchangeably using the words, concept and premise. Because I think you used concept when you first started out our talk.
Richard: Right. So I differentiate stuff like concept and set up and premise. If premise is incorporates what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the spin, then we’re cool. That’s, then it’s both. But mostly what I differentiate as setup, and concept and we’ll get into this with a movie, is that the setup usually is a movie where you’re starting in a certain direction, and it allows at that point in the film, to be anything that allows itself to be almost like 30 different things. That to me, is always the setup where you’re sitting and going, “Okay, this could go in this direction, this could go in this direction, this could go in this direction, this could go in this direction. It’s the choice, the creative choice, where you make as the writer to do this spin, where you’re saying, this is the direction we’re gonna go in.
And so the direction that I was gonna go in, when I said the concept, the setup, this vampire or human being, she freed him, now they’re on the road, they’re headed to wherever. He sits there and he says this. When they eventually say to themselves, “Hey, guess what? We could work these two vampires against each other and then grab her,” that then becomes the spin. And as we get into the other films and everything, we’ll see that there is a setup. When we go through the setup, you’ll see that, I think that there is like 30 different directions that the film, the writer could go in. They’ve set up a situation where it could go all these different directions. And when it goes in this specific direction, that’s the big creative choice. And what’s important to know is that, sometimes that big creative choice is a bad one [laughs].
And then sometimes there really kind of is, it’s like the creative choice is kind of like, yeah, so obvious because there isn’t anything really exciting and smart and everything about what they’re doing as far as going forward. And then sometimes, and this is a big key point that I think we’ll return to more and more. Is sometimes the premise, sometimes the spin, is not really terribly exciting. It’s just what it is, but then it becomes execution based, about how do you execute what you just said, because what you just not said about the premise and the spin, that doesn’t really excite me, okay? But what you are now going, when I read the script, that, the execution of that script, that really is cool. And that happens a lot.
But at the same time, and this we’re gonna get into, is basically I would say, “Hey, if you’re a fledgling writer, you’re going to say to your, you should be saying to yourself like, oh, “Hey look, I’m doing John Wick here.” Yeah, but there is already John Wick and you are not that. You don’t have the credentials that that person has, those people did to get John Wick made. So that they took, whoever financed it, they took a flyer with those people and they said, “Yeah, it’s gonna be really cool [inaudible 00:22:18]. But they don’t, you don’t necessarily have that. You just have that intro where you’re saying, “Here’s what my story’s about.” And if you laid out what John Wick is like the premise and the concept, and you went to the spin and you move forward, I wouldn’t read your script.
I wouldn’t read your script, because I would sit there and I would go, well, why would I read the script? So you have to understand that this an important aspect, but it’s really more important to fledgling writers or veteran writers who might be looking at a script and say, “Why hasn’t this caught fire? I think I, this is my finest writing, blah, blah, blah.” Well, maybe, you don’t have what we’re talking about right now.
Ashley: I’m curious too. You mentioned with the, this premise of these two competing bad guys and they’ll save her and all those things. You brought that over from another story and you said you made it your own. Is that just simply a function of, obviously in a Japanese setting originally, and then taking it to a futuristic vampire setting, changes it a lot. Is that what you mean by making it your own, or is there some more pieces to making it a little more original?
Richard: Great point again. So, in other words, so at certain point, like YoJimbo was made into the ‘60s Fistful of Dollars. There was another movie, Seven Samurai that was made into The Magnificent Seven. And both the [laughs] they both were done by the same director. Bottom line is, is that yeah, I think that what happens is, that in the age that we live in, in the creative environment that we live in, what you often have is a lightning rod for something that brings on all of this creativity that then makes, that is relevant to your audience, and it makes you sit there and create some stuff that is cool. And not necessarily original, but is original in a small O kind of way. That it sits there and it passes master and everything.
Because, as a writer, what you’re basically trying to do is, you’re trying to tell a story that has enough different and enough to it, that is, it doesn’t have to be quote unquote “original” with a capital O. Basically what it has to do though is, it has to be different enough that it stands out. And somebody sits there and says, “Hey, I wanna do that. I wanna make this movie.” And a lot of times it’s that director. Back to your question. So in other words, so now it’s not just about like Swords, and then with A Fistful of Dollars with guns. There’s a lot more that goes along with it, but really what it boils down to is, why it worked for me, is because there was a dichotomy between the two people, okay? The two people that are at the center of our story.
And so, when you have two people that they’re going back and forth with and everything. You sit there and you see this back and forth between our main characters and how even their plan and their strategy and then the execution of that plan, there’s conflict between them about executing it and how it all plays out. And so therefore, it becomes completely different when you compare it eventually to your Yojimbo. Where there was a lone Samurai. Where you compare it to A Fistful of Dollars. Where there was a lone gun fighter who wanted almost for kicks, to rescue some hostages that were being held by this person. So in other words, yes, I make it my own thematically, but I also make it my own just dynamically, with the characters, to what they’re talking about.
What they’re doing, what they feel about what they’re doing. It’s a completely different vibe based on this template that goes all the way back to Yojimbo.
Ashley: I’m curious, let’s talk a little bit about the process of doing this. So, as you were going through these, it sounds like this might have been a little bit of a reverse, where you had this idea, you then wrote the bigger version and then kind of came back to it. But, how do you come up with these ideas? What does your process look like? Are you, walking around your neighborhood, are you on the treadmill, running, just coming up with ideas and penciling them in, and then you try them out? And then ultimately, how do you know you’ve landed on the right spin for the story? How do you know that it’s gonna be satisfying? How do you know it’s gonna carry the audience through?
Richard: After I come up with the idea, I then go through an agonizing process. And I would say, it’s like, I sit there and I love the idea. I love it, love it, but just know, it’s almost like when you have a dream in the middle of the night and you are, you’re in this process where you’re writing it down because you believe that’s there’s got to be something insightful about what you just dreamed about. And then you read it in the morning and you go, “What! What! What was that all about?” Right? And then, so I know that sometimes with an idea, just time will burn that idea away, and you’ll sit there and go, “I don’t know what I was thinking. I was very excited at that point, but now cooler heads have supervised the thinking here, and now I’m not thinking that that’s very, very good at all.” But let’s say then that that idea goes past that initial 48 hours.
And then, you sit there and you start to go through a process where you start to kick it around more. Then you start to sit there and add some details, and then you start to add more details. Then you start to like almost do some kind of research and sit there and see, hey, so come on, I’m not brilliant. So this has got to been done before or something like that, right? And so you go like, or you already know that it’s kind of like borrowing maybe from something and so you kind of like, you’re still kind of like, “Well, where, was the… how did that turn out?” Blah, blah, blah. Then it’s, and it’s really frankly about time. So then, after a certain period, then you go, “I still love this.” And if you still love this, then I would equate it to like being, seeing somebody from across the way and being in love with them.
And then you meet them and everything, and then, then there’s that moment where a lot of times where you’ll just out there and go, “What was I thinking? I’m not in love with this person at all. I hate this person,” right? And so there is that moment. And then that kills the idea. So that’s another threshold, but if it doesn’t and you keep on reviewing it and you keep on saying, then the big threshold is. You start pitching it to people that you care about. That you care about their opinions. Sometimes it’s people that are just kind of like you’ve pigeonholed as your average audience person. Then there is the person that is an expert as far as like really good ideas, and they’re a professional and all this kind of stuff. You start to pitch it. And guess what?
If that passes the test… And you have to be real about it. You cannot sit there and see it with gross colored glasses. You have to sit there and you have to look at them. You read the room in a very deep psychological way. You have to read the room. You can’t have anybody that’s just like saying what they think that you wanna hear. No no no, okay. And when it’s, there’s this really good cross section of people and they come back at you and they say, “Oh my God, that was cool.” But more importantly, the question that I always like, and so what happens next? And so what happens next? And sometimes you don’t even know what happens next, when you’re pitching this, because you don’t wanna go any further down that road because you wanna sit there and let this process kill it right now.
Okay? But it doesn’t. And then pretty soon, you say to yourself, “That’s really cool. I feel that I can sit there and really entertain this idea as something that I’m gonna spend months, perhaps years, working on.”
Ashley: One of the things that I run into and I’m sure other writers run into it too. And I think it gets to, why is this so difficult? Is that I know when I’m going through this sort of conceptual stage of writing a script, you feel, at least I do. I feel like I’m potentially wasting a lot of time. And so there’s always this sort of push. Like if I’ve written 10 pages in a day, I feel a certain sense of accomplishment. Whereas, if I just think about my movie for three hours and don’t really come up with anything concrete, it always feels like a waste of time. So how do you just emotionally power through that? How much time do you allow? At some point, do you just say, “Hey, it’s time to write the script. I don’t have it all worked out, but I’m just gonna move forward?” But how do you get through that just emotionally, those moments, and not jump the gun a little bit throughout this process?
Richard: So, Great question. And the bottom line is, is that it’s such a great question, because I would say that, it is speaking about like what almost all writers have. Is that you feel during different stages that, this is so great. And you just, you almost skip certain steps that I have trained myself to say, I don’t care how you feel, go through these steps because you will not regret going, taking that process. Doing that idea through these steps and making it work. Because if it doesn’t work here, you’re gonna say, “Oh, thank God I put it through that.” So my answer too is, if I’ve decided that there’s a really good idea, now begins another months long process. And what I’m talking about when I’m saying months long process, is that I’m getting to the point where you almost always allow for yourself to be stupid.
You’re allowing yourself to be stupid. You’re allowing yourself to sit there and say, I’m missing something along the way. Because if you do that and you keep on running it through these kind of hoops, then basically what you’re going to do is, that by the time you get to writing the script, you feel very, very confident that this is a good story. This is something that is worth working on. This is something that is going to pay off. So, but to get to that feeling, that confidence, right? And it’s very important that you go through these hoops because it’s very similar to a baseball player who does a couple of spring training sessions and then says, “I’m ready to go. Let’s bring on the first game.” No, you need to go through all of these different things. Wrap yourself up to get to that first swing of the back, right?
So bottom line is, I sit there and take that idea then, and then I’m an outliner. So I outline, like I definitely outline like crazy. I start with slug lines. So I work out the different major points including the three acts, but there’s points in those three acts that I have to satisfy during this process. Then once I feel like I’ve satisfied them, and I will point out that during that process, it could kill the idea. With that said. If I, if we go through that hoop, then I would say, okay, cool. Then I’m at the outline stage where I’m kind of like taking that. I’m definitely taking that. And I’m now like trying to do the slug lines for all the scenes that I imagine that are gonna be part of this project, using that three act structure, but using different markers in that three act structure that are very, very important.
And if satisfied, it’ll lends itself to, okay, let’s go to the outline, let’s do this. Then I would definitely say, that’s where I can’t control myself. So during the outlining all these scenes, now I’m like definitely writing down details of that stuff. And so, it’s not just this clean like slug line. Yeah. Let’s move on to the next slug line. It’s basically me like, oh, let’s put this in there, let’s put this. This is why I wanna have this in there. And then every step of the process, I will step away and I will have week to two weeks. Again, because I’m just now saying, I’m always pretending that I’m stupid. I’m really stupid. Because frankly, you are stupid because you cannot see what you’re working on with a very, very clear head. Okay. So during this process, I do all the different outlining, but there’s a lot of details.
And then, I reevaluate and I see what I’ve got. And then I’m like, okay, this is going to end up. And then I start doing a page count and I start doing, this is what… okay. I have to consolidate this and I have to consolidate that outline wise. And then I have to do that. And I have to do that. And then, okay. Ah, okay. I’m looking over the outline and the character or the main character, zero development here. There’s not, it’s not happening. So let’s take this, let’s do that, let’s to do this. Okay. And then, ah, that’s a good outline. That’s a great outline. And it’s so, I feel so spent after that point. I swear to God, this has always occurred, where I go, “This is really a good story. I don’t wanna write the script.” I feel like I’ve already written the script.
I feel like I don’t even have the energy to write the script. But I give the time. And then I return back to it. I look at it and I say, “Hey, this is good. Okay, this is good.” And maybe I have now more energy. And then finally I start writing. And then I will honestly tell you that, when you go through that process, I have written a lot, but I have written a lot on about 40 or 50 projects. I think that there are a lot of people out there and this is a nod. This is a nod. Oh, I appreciate what you’ve done. That have 150 projects that they’ve done. If not the same process, they’ve gone through the same kind of thing, because they have this kind of thing where they’re generating stuff and they believe that this is really valuable and this is good.
I am not that super human writer, but I usually can separate at that point the stuff that is not worth working on and the stuff that is, and at certain points then, when I go forward. So I have a very good amount of writing and projects done. But at the same time, I have a lot of projects where they feel and they are aborted and they’re like, “Oh yeah, that was really good, but yeah. That, okay, that’s good…” And maybe, maybe the process weeded out too vigorously. That’s the kind of thing that haunts me. But really not that big a deal because for… I’m telling you right now, if you go through a process where you really vigorously work out your thing, you will end up with something where you are able to like years later, still see what you originally saw in it.
Because frankly, things that you’re working on, believe me, very rarely, if they do get produced, are ever going to get produced in a way where it like happens two months from now, three months from now. Unless you’re doing a rewrite, you’re being paid to rewrite something that’s gonna go into production, that’s a totally different process. But if you’re doing something from original, you have to know that what you do at that very early part, is something that is so valuable. Because you’re gonna have to answer the call, like sometimes years from now, where you can say, “No, I’ve gone down that road and I can tell you why that’s not gonna work.” Or, “Tell me why you think it might work because I’ve gone down that road and please, I would love to be wrong, so tell me.”
But that’s the process for me that makes it, so I feel really, really strong about working on something where you get to page 60 or 70 on that first draft and just go, “Oh my God, please give me any, any other excuse to not continue.” Because once you then burst through that, you’ve finished the script. But the only thing that I can rely on is, hey, you went through this process, man. This is a good script. Just remember that, man. Just remember that. Just remember that.
Ashley: So, all great points. So let’s dig into some examples here and actually try and illustrate some of this on some other films that our audience will hopefully be familiar with. And I will preface this by saying that there’s gonna be tons of spoilers in this next part of our discussion.
Richard: I was gonna ask you if you, yeah. Good, good, good for you.
Ashley: And I will, yeah. I’ll read a list of the films that we’re gonna discuss before the interviews play, so people really are that concerned about it, they can be forewarned. But yeah, we’re gonna do some diving into some of these films and the plots and the mechanics, so there may be a spoiler or two.
Richard: Okay. So we, you and I, we originally got started on this subject because we were talking about Back to the Future. And it was, and it actually was like not a coincidence, because I actually talk about Back to the Future a lot amongst people. When we, when any writers and when we were talking about stuff, because Back to the Future is a really great film to discuss when we’re talking about concept and then what you need to do with that concept. And what you do with that concept, as far as the spin is concerned is very, very important. So basically, I was sitting here saying to you that, here’s the setup with Back to the Future. Is that, you had this Marty McFly and you setting up that, this is his present life.
And then he has a relationship with this one professor guy and then there’s a DeLorean, and then boom, he goes back to the past and then stuff happens. And when we were talking, I was saying to you that a lot of times, what people will say is, that the spin is that when he goes back to the past. And so here’s the perfect moment where I will say to you. How you know what the spin is and what you’re trying to do with the spin, is that you’ve done the setup, and the setup allows for all these roads to open up that you could go down and then the road you decide, that’s your spin. That’s what you as a creative artist are deciding to do, and that’s your spin. And in the case of Back to the Future, the spin was brilliant. Because I will remind anybody that if you take just the first whatever 20 minutes or whatever it is, you could go and you could go on a lot of different directions.
You could say, oh, Marty McFly, he has this one girl he’s in love with, and so he sits there and he meets her in the past or everything. And he like sits there and he knows, and so he engineers this thing in the past so that he will be able to get her. And this is kind of like the concepts for other movies. So these are the roads that open up when you come up with a premise that these guys that did Back to the Future come up with. What was their spin? Their spin was very specific. They sat there and they said, Marty McFly has an accident, and then the person that comes across him is actually his mother. And then the mother sits there and cares for him and then ends up falling in love with him. And then by doing that, negates the, what would be the future, where she meets the father and falls in love with the father and they end up having Marty.
So therefore, because she’s falling in love with Marty, Marty starts to disappear. He starts to… and so now Marty’s mission, his, the spin takes Marty on a mission, where he now only needs to get back to his present, but he needs to sit there and make sure so to guarantee that everything is gonna be cool, that his mother re falls in love with his father. And that’s look, gonna be a tough thing because the father is kind of like this really spastic nerd kind of guy. And so basically what you have then is, that’s his mission. That’s what he needs to do. And then it’s all raised, then he gets back to the present and things have changed. But that is the spin.
Ashley: And one of the things that occurred to me, and one of these occurred to me when we were having our discussion, I was sort of pushing back a little bit just on, it feels with Back to the Future and we’re going to get into some of these other movies where the spin and we’ll see sort of in your analysis on these other films. But the spin seems more central to the premise. And I’m curious how your sort of your hypothesis of this setup and spin relates to other screenwriting gurus that talk about like an A plot or a B plot or an internal goal versus an external goal. And again, with Back to the Future, if you were to pitch Back to the Future, I don’t know, like in one or two… I mean the, Back to the Future is so high concept because the title of it, Back to the Future, in a lot of ways is the premise.
Like that is in some ways the logline. Teenager goes back to the ‘50s, now he’s got to get back to the future. But in this example, I always looked at that whole subplot with the mother as more of a B story, than the actual spin of the story or the plot point. I wouldn’t, in like Syd Field parlance, the act break would sort of be, when he goes into the 1950’s. I think, I don’t know. Where do you sort of land on that? And how do you… do have any thoughts on how the spin ultimately plays in, with sort of the A plot and the B plot, internal goal versus external goal?
Richard: Yeah. So listen. So I give my, I give a debt to Syd Field because when I was first starting as writing and everything. I kind of figured out what I was going to do and how writing was gonna go and everything, and then I read Syd Field and it was like confirmation that there was a lot of stuff and everything that was, that what I was kind of going with, was like where to go. The thing about what Syd Field says, and I think is important, is to sit there and say basically that, this is what I would make kind of wholly and I have made wholly at least. That usually what ends up happening is, whatever is your spin or your first act plot point, is ending the first act. Meaning that now you’re going, you’re moving forward into your second act. And I think that that’s one of the things that Syd Field, I think really kind of like just totally nailed. I also think there’s another guru out there who talks about an exciting event or something event.
Ashley: Blake Snyder, yeah, the Save the Cat king.
Richard: Yeah. And I think that, I agree and disagree, but only just moderately disagree. Meaning that, I don’t necessarily agree that there has to be quote unquote “any event” meaning that it’s external, so to speak. I believe that there are things that happen that can be internal. Okay. So now we’ve kind of segued into internal, external. Basically what I would say to you is that, when you are coming up with your storylines and you are saying to yourself, this is a good idea, this is a bad idea. One of the often asked questions is, do you think about the character first, do you think about the story first? I would only say to you that, I think story first, simply because, that I believe that if you hang a lot of what happens on a particular character, it’s not as relatable per se. In other words, certain things don’t necessarily happen to happen to that character.
They can happen to anybody. So therefore it’s mostly about storyline and plot as opposed to character. Now, there is a very, very great stories that are told about a very specific kind of person, very specific character, and the act beats, the spin is absolutely referred to them. And I will give you a non-kind of like obvious way. I hope it’s not obvious, is that, that person has been in a mythology action movie. They have been preordained to be going through all that stuff. So therefore, that particular character is going through that. But even then, it’s still is, hey, what if you were that person that was preordained to go through that? So bottom line though is, that I just, I dispense with, especially with this kind of discussion with anything where it’s like, oh, what about this, and what about the sub text?
What about A, what about B, what about this? I think the most important thing is to come up with a storyline that is not derivative. It has some kind of originality factor and is about this, then with this happening at some point in the first act, which closes the first act. So, when we’re talking about Back to the Future, there is an opportunity because we’ve seen so many time travel movies, where they could have gone in a million different directions. So I would say that, and this is where we were going back and forth because I was like saying to you, “Oh, look, this is what the filmmakers were actually thinking about when they were writing.” They felt like the most important thing is, how do we mine the whole thing about like, somebody falling in love with their son and all this kind of stuff?
They were sitting there saying, “This is going to be funny and hysterical. How do we do this? And we do it in a delicate comical kind of way, that is kind of…” So they went down that version, but there’s so many time-travel movies that you can… We don’t have Terminator on this list, but I would say Terminator is a time-travel movie where, that terminator person is going to do this, because they know this is going to happen. Well, you just take that and you can just sit there and you can morph that into what they’re, where they could have gone with Back to the Future. But they didn’t. They chose this. And I would then tell you that one of the brilliant things about Back to the Future, because it’s a comedy. I think we’re going to probably talk about a lot of genre movies.
But when we’re talking about a comedies, the more the actual premise and then the spin has to do in the line of character, really is kind of like symptomatic of that genre. Meaning that the best comedy spins usually are character oriented rather than maybe in an action film, they’re more less character oriented. So real quickly, like Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is a very, very simple thing to break down as far as, here you are, you have this guy who is leading kind of a shallow life and he’s not recognizing anything, including the woman that he could be, that he loves, but could be in love with, that he could have a relationship, a long lasting relationship. He’s not realizing any of those things. He’s not, he’s wasting his life. He’s like slumming through his life.
Bill Murray is the epitome of somebody that is slumming through their life. Okay? So, and then through the Groundhog Day magical thing, we know that we’ve reached that plot spin, when we hear Sonny and Cher singing [laughs] the song, the second time, and then it keeps on being repeated. But the second time is when we know we’ve hit that plot beat, because now he’s gonna repeat all of these things.
And what he does with the repeat of that day, is how he’s going to learn about how to be not just slamming through life, but appreciate life, and appreciate all the opportunities every minute, to learn how to play the piano. To see the person that you could be in love with and spend the rest of your life with, in a loving, wonderful thing. This is that plot beat. And this is what Groundhog Day chose to do. Again, comedies a lot of times are very character oriented with their plot beat, their plot spin that spins them off in a direction that we’re talking about.
Ashley: Got you. Got you. And ironically or coincidentally, I guess, as I was going through the list, I picked out Groundhog Day for precisely that. The other thing is, going back to the Back to the Future is, you’re saying it’s character driven but, or that spin is character driven, because it’s specific to Marty, but it doesn’t really in my mind feel character driven, because there’s nothing specific to his character. I mean, it’s specific. There’s, it’s his mom, so it’s specific to him. Whereas in Groundhog Day, it’s like a character flaw. There’s no character flaw that Marty is then trying to overcome. And again, this gets to the internal versus the external goal. But I don’t know, do you feel like maybe one is a little bit of a stronger choice or one is a little bit more integrated into the plot?
Richard: I feel like your point is very, very well taken. First of all, I think that if, yeah, I wasn’t prepared just to talk about it in this way, but Back to the Future, the thing that has been criticized for, for instance, was the setup, then everything that happens in the second and third act and then the resolution. When he comes back, everything has changed and his parents are different, the relationship and everything and the way they look, the way they are. And the criticism has been that, oh, so there all these changes occurred in the past and now this is considered the positive result of that. And so that’s the criticism that Back to the future ended up having to absorb and say, “Hey, look, yeah, we see that this occurred, and then this leads to…” and yeah, we see these people now in a better place than they were before, right?
Okay. So the result ends up being critical. You can sit there and you can criticize them for that. But at the end of the day, yes, it doesn’t necessarily change Marty. But I would then say to you that it does change his environment and his people around him. And that then… I mean, I guess I would just ask the big ball question, like what is character, right? Are we who we are or are we defined a little bit, a lot a bit, by the people around us? By the environment around us. By the way we choose to be with this person really. So that’s the direction that they went, because like, Marty is the through hole through this thing.
And yeah, he probably, you would say he doesn’t necessarily change. Certainly not in the same way that Bill Murray changes in Groundhog Day. So, right. And so what I would say to you is like, that it’s, there’s a difference between an action plot and a character plot, and Groundhog Day is definitely a character plot where you’re following this character as he grows. And that becomes, that becomes the arc. I mean, that becomes the plot. Okay. Whereas with Marty, once you kick in the, I’ve got to get these two together or I’m going to cease to exist, that action plot line sits there and it negates a lot of maybe exploration that you could do with the particular main character, that you end up doing with Groundhog Day.
And so, I would then summarize by saying, this is about the choices that you make, when you are deciding, hey, this is what my story is gonna be about, because then, you start to play around with all of these things. And you hope that you hit this and you hope you hit that, but sometimes you just don’t. And in my opinion, Marty McFly starts in one place, ends in another place and it’s very similar. Whereas, I think obviously Groundhog Day, I think that their character begins in one place and ends in another place. And, I think some people might say, “I love both of the movies, I love only this one. It’s up to whatever might appeal to whoever they’re watching. But I think that the filmmakers, the choices that they made, it negate, it closes doors to what you’re trying to do maybe and what you end up with.
Ashley: Let’s dig into Star Wars. That’s another film I’m very familiar with. So maybe we can get on that. And Saving Private Ryan is another one that you had on the list, which again I thought was very story-driven more than character driven. But let’s knock off those two and get into that. Because those are films I’m very familiar with and I think I might have some good questions on those.
Richard: Cool. So Star Wars, we’ll start with, Star Wars is what I would sit there and consider as perfunctory at the outset. When you sit there and you look at the actual setup, you sit there and you… The actual setup is Luke Skywalker is leading a boring life on a planet, when an old man Obi-Wan, gets a message from one of Luke’s droids, from Princess Leia that she needs help. She needs Obi-Wan’s help. The spin actually is, after his foster parents are killed by the empire, Luke decides to go Obi-Wan and help them, leading to Luke’s involvement in a rebellion against the evil empire ruling the galaxy. But basically bottom line, that I read it and I wrote it, but basically that’s the setup, that’s the thing. And so, basically it is perfunctory.
It is one of those things where you sit there and you go, okay, so that’s what you needed to do and that’s what it… And so, it’s not as if you can say, “Oh my applause for that really fantastic spin and everything.” But so, I will throw in this very, very quickly and say, but it is still a spin. It is still an important choice, and I mark it off with, as we’re speaking now, with the release of Dune about to come in. That Dune has, in a really weird way, a very similar kind of situation with the character, is in this situation where eventually the character and where that character is, they’re gonna get invaded. People that they, that character loves, is also going to be killed. And yet it’s interesting that Star Wars goes outward. Star Wars, that planet where Luke is been brought up, is just the beginning.
And then he goes to the outer places, goes to different planets, goes to all these different things, because it’s a worldwide rebellion. Whereas, in Dune, the choice with that plot beat, that spin is to say, hey, people were killed, but he remains on the planet. He sits there and burrows in with some other people that are living there and he redefines himself, but he stays on the planet. And so again, this is about choices. Dune was written in the ‘60s, Star Wars came out in ‘77. There’s no way George Lucas wasn’t a big fan or whatever. Read Dune, certainly read Dune. So he knows, I could do this. I could make the entire Star Wars thing about this one planet, where Luke is, but he does not choose to do that. He chooses to go out and he chooses to sit there and say, the entire galaxy is involved here. And Dune sits there and says, “No. Everything that’s happening right now in this storyline is about this one planet. Because guess what? There’s a million stories to tell on this one planet. And here’s my main character. He’s suffered the same things that Lucas suffered, but he’s going to do it this way.”
Ashley: Yeah, well it’s and it raises an interesting point. Back to our early discussion, is I asked you, well, how do you know when you have the right choice? I think in this particular case, in some ways, you’re saying either choice could be correct. It really ultimately falls on the execution. Certainly Dune will, it remains to be seen what the movie is gonna be like, but certainly Dune as a novel was well received, and certainly Star Wars well received. So they made the opposite choice, but yet both of them worked well for what they were.
Richard: So, Real quickly, I would just say it this way. So totally agree with everything you just said, but I would just say, I’m gonna say something, but I don’t want it to hijack the conversation. And like, so I don’t want to go into this, it’s for another day. But see, the difference is that George Lucas was sitting there and he had to come up with what he was going to do. Whereas Dune was a book, and now we’re seeing an adaptation, the second adaptation of the book. And so, as a screenwriter, you might have to adapt a book. And so, what do you do? How, the choices that you make, what is this book about? What kind of things am I going to be wholly to? What am I going to do as I adopt this book, becomes yet another kind of thing that screenwriters would have to struggle with, but at the same time…
So, I don’t want to hijack the conversation because, that’s a totally different thing. Totally. It’s like, what do you do when you adapt something that is so iconic, or just adapt a novel. Bottom line is, yeah. It’s about making choices about, what do you believe is where the story is at least for now with this particular story.
Ashley: Got you. Got you. So what about Saving Private Ryan? Maybe you can now do that one for us.
Richard: Yeah, so let’s go through Private Ryan. So Private Ryan is pretty straight forward. But at the same time it’s, I would say, when I say straight forward, it’s a compliment. Meaning that, if you wrote Private Ryan as a spec script, or if you were now a marketing person that was having to advertise this movie, you have a really great through line, because the concept, and then the spin are really marketable, or you’re able to pitch this and get somebody to read. So, when I say it’s very straightforward, that’s a good, that’s a compliment. So Private Ryan’s set up is, it’s D- Day and Tom Hank’s character survives the bloody landing on Omaha Beach. The spin is after he regroups with his men who are still living, he is given a special mission.
With the battle for Europe, raging all around him, he must try to locate a soldier, Private Ryan, whose siblings have been killed, and the military wants to send Ryan home to his parents, because he’s the only living son that they now have. So, I guess, this is a good time to also then point out that, because we’re gonna talk about, when we talk about alien. One of the things that is very important to what we’re talking about is, is when you have a really solid thing like that, when do you deliver this thing? When do you deliver the really cool spin? When do you deliver your spin? And in Private Ryan, its very straightforward. You have this cemetery scene, then you jump to Omaha Beach, and then you have this sequence that plays out, for whatever plays out for, and then you have this scene with Tom Hanks, he’s gathered himself together.
And then there’s this scene where he’s given his mission. Meanwhile, there’s a few scenes that cut back to United States and we’d find out that Private Ryan’s siblings been killed and there’s this orders and all this kind of stuff. What it amounts to is, at around the 2025 page mark, Tom Hanks is given this mission and then the movie proceeds. So what we’re also talking about then, in a global way, is that usually the plot spin that we’re talking about occurs at 20 minute mark. But over the years, it’s now moved further, further, further backwards, so that, to appeal to modern audiences that have very short attention span, so to speak. And I mean that with all due respect. Is that, you have sometimes, depending on your story, 10 minutes.
And so, anyway, your plot spin is going to occur between 10 and 20 minutes. So that’s an aspect of what you’re creating. You’re trying to sit there and say, and so why? Why, because you don’t want your audience to be bored if you take too long to do it. And if you are too short with it, maybe the audience then in this gonna say, “Oh my God, I didn’t know who, I didn’t even know anybody that was gonna be, that was being put through the paces of the story, because they didn’t spend any time developing the characters, blah, blah, blah.” So in those two kind of ways, just as examples, you have this fine line to kind of work. But, it’s a line that you’d need to adhere to, because it’s for a 90 minute script, it’s 10 to 15 minutes. For a two hour plus script, for a two hour script, it can be 20 minutes.
For anything above that, it usually, it does take longer for that first act beat. I’ll just slip this in, Godfather, three hour movie. The first spin occurs when Michael is given the choice, or Marlon Brando has been killed or injured, hurt. Michael decides, I’m going to avenge my father. That occurs at the first plot beat, and it’s much longer than just 20 minutes, because the movie itself was longer. But that’s the plot beat for instance in Godfather.
Ashley: With saving Private Ryan, and I was interested to bring this one up because I never felt… I saw the movie when it came out in the theater. I think I’ve seen it maybe once on cable. I… and this is maybe taste. But I never felt like the premise or this idea of going to save one soldier whose brothers had died. I never felt like, it felt almost just like an excuse to have the movie. It never really felt like it resonated or was somehow really all that organic. And in fact, the first 30 minutes of that movie is just the invasion of D- Day. And to me, the thing that, like it wasn’t the script, in my mind that made Private Ryan work. What actually made it work was Spielberg. He’s so good as a director, and it was a spectacle. He made that first, I mean the first 30 minutes is just literally them invading things.
It’s interesting to watch, not… we don’t even really know the characters. We don’t even really know much of anything. It’s just fascinating to watch and he’s so good with the production design and the camera and everything and the sound design. It’s just such a great spectacle. But I never really considered it a great script, and in fact I would say Spielberg has always gotten sort of that knock, his stuff doesn’t ever, it’s great entertainment, but it doesn’t whatever, sort of get that depth that we feel with something like Stanley Kubrick on some of his movies. It just feels like there’s another level of depth.
So it’s, I felt, I thought it was interesting you put this one on the list. And again, it sort of goes back to my original question is, how do you know that your spin is good? Because in my mind, the saving Private Ryan spin, it just, it felt really clunky to me, and it felt like, why are you gonna risk all of these people to save one guy? Like I get it, that all his brothers died and stuff, but again, just the premise felt clunky and it just, it tainted the rest of the movie a little bit for me. I didn’t feel like that that spin actually worked. I still like the movie, I still think it’s a good movie. But the spin never quite worked for me or that act break. And really that’s sort of the premise of the movie.
Richard: So, I hear you. I totally hear you. So where do I begin? What I would say to you is that, I have Private Ryan on there because it is very, a very clearly delineated plot spin. And now, everything that you said, I would like, I’m not going to deny. I think that there is a lot of validity to what you’re saying. Basically, it boils down to, first of all, yeah. I think that Spielberg gets the, this hit because he is very much about what is going to be the visual, on what is going to be the stop that’s going to just be really exciting to see. And does he work hard on the script? I worked with Spielberg and I would simply say I’m not gonna speak about like, my relationship with them and what we did, but I will say to you that I think that when he can, I think he does.
But what it boils down with for Private Ryan was, I think he was very interested in doing a World War II movie. I think he was very interested in re doing The Omaha Invasion thing, because it had just never been done by a modern filmmaker, and so we had all these techniques to be able to make that really, really cool. But I believe that once you get into, after Omaha, and when you get into it, it does become kind of episodic television in a way. Like I grew up with combat and movies like that or television shows like that. Where it becomes like you have these core people, but you don’t really discover anything beyond their past, their lives, except for the most kind of like basic kind of things. And then boom, they’re usually killed.
And so the thing about it is, there is that kind of superficiality to the rest of the movie. Now, speaking about the… and I think that this is the critical part. I believe that, when you say, “Hey look, I didn’t by that,” but you would say, “Yeah, the movie was good.” I would say to you that a lot of times what ends up happening is that you take a flyer on what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about, because you say, if it’s the excuse for a filmmaker to do this, this, and this and this, then I’m down, I’m cool. I can look the other way where I would be much more… you know. So it depends in many ways on the genre, and in this case, it was a World War II genre kind of thing. And I would say to you that, he obviously went deeper with the Liam Neeson Holocaust movie, which… Schindler’s List.
Ashley: Yes, Schindler’s List.
Richard: And Schindler’s List definitely has a deeper attention to the screenplay and a deeper attention to things, whereas Private Ryan is more of a genre movie. So it is and it can be. What we’re talking about can be a vehicle, constructed as a vehicle to transport you through the rest of the movie, to just get you there. Because there’s other stuff to bear that is going to make it a very entertaining movie. And I’m, and I want to make that a very important point. Meaning that, look, at the… I will say it this way. In baseball, a lot of Dominican Republican, baseball players from the Dominican Republic, they’re hitters. That when they come to the major leagues, they’re hitters. They swing, they do not walk. And one of the things that they trace it back to is, hey look, you don’t get out of the Dominican Republic baseball system by walking.
So the fact is that there are times when you can do something that is a vehicle for other things and it is servicing the greater picture. But my point to you is, you still have to have something. You still have to do something right. But here’s the bigger point. But if you’re a fledgling writer, that’s not gonna be good enough. You’re not gonna get out of the Dominican Republic by walking. You’re not going to be able to do certain things like that. I would debate only with you with Private Ryan, if some fledgling writer had that as the concept. I think that that would probably get them noticed, the script noticed. That it would achieve like, oh, now Spielberg’s reading it. I think that concept is noble enough, that it would be the way that he’s gonna be able to do a World War II movie.
Okay. But with that said, this is the thing. Is that, as we’re talking about stuff that works, doesn’t work, works on this level, works on this level. The thing that you have to do as a screenwriter is, you have to say, “Hey look, is this going to get me noticed? Is this enough to get me noticed? Because I think I’ve executed it. But if you don’t have something that has something that we’re talking about, regarding concept spin, then guess what, you’re not gonna get noticed. That’s how I would circle back. But yeah, I felt like the concept was just a vehicle for Steven Spielberg to direct a World War II film.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And I think this is a good segue in. When we were emailing, getting ready for the episode, you had a number of films that you mentioned that kind of run counter to this whole thing. And I think it’s always important, because I think the big knock that guys like Blake Snyder and Syd Field get, is that they, people lean into that formula too much. And I do think it’s worth acknowledging some really great films that maybe don’t always fit the template. So maybe we can talk about a few of those and start off with 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Richard: And 2001 is a great example of like, look bottom line is that the film was a box office kind of a disaster for MGM when it was released. And it’s over the years, the decades where 2011 finally made buddy and, but, and studio was terrified, when they first were screening the movie and everything. And why? Well…
Ashley: I don’t blame him [laughs].
Richard: I Know. Exactly, right? And so yeah. But again, with full disclosure, if you pushed me to say, what are your favorite movies, or, no sorry, what is like… because I would say Kill Bill or something like that for favorite. But what do you think is the best movies? Like, I would say Godfather movies and I would put 2001 right up there. So, I admired this film and loved this film and I think it’s fantastic. But, here’s the thing. Kubrick does with this film what he does with other films in his cannon. He basically almost completely ignores what we’re talking about. Is that, he comes up with a concept, which is extra-terrestrial life, is going to be touching human beings. But for our purposes, the setup is this. This is the setup.
This is what we’ve been talking about with every other film. We start with and we stay with, for 20 minutes. We’re in the prehistoric pass and we’re showing primal apes and they are behaving in the way that they behave and they’re having the kind of daily life that they would have had. That’s that. In 20 minutes, that’s basically what you got. And so I will say to you that one of the biggest problems that, the one of the things that people mistake, is that with 2001, is that, they say, the first act is the apes, and then the second act is when it goes into the future with the space tank. And so what I’m trying to then kind of getting across, probably in a pen down, in a very kind of serious way. So taking it seriously, meaning that the act breaks, I think should be defined by, what is that, when you’re actually spinning it off into a different direction.
And Kubrick, frankly, he hits the mark as far as time wise. At the 20 minute mark of the prehistoric sequence, he introduces the monolith. He and Arthur Clark introduced the monolith. And so there you have the spin. And so again, how do we know when it’s a spin? Because when you do 20 minutes of something, you then say, it could go in all these different directions at that point. And the 20 minute mark, he introduces a monolith that suddenly appears in front of the apes and then that changes the Apes behavior, their thinking. And then we see scenes that happen after they’ve had contact with the monolith. But more importantly for our purposes, what it defines is, that the spin is this. That Kubrick and Clark are going to take us on a story where it’s going to be about alien contact influence with human beings.
And where Kubrick plays this card that is so totally different from everybody else is, that he introduces this at the appropriate point, but he doesn’t follow through with everything that he’s kind of introduced with the apes per se. They don’t become persona characters and everything. He almost does a reset with the whole futuristic stuff. But so he’s doing this thing where he’s thematically telling a story and that’s the thread. But he still is honoring this thing, where he’s doing this thing. Now, here’s the point. Okay. So some people hate the movie, some people, “Oh, I admire it, but don’t love it.” And then there’s people that love it and admire it and think it’s the greatest. Tom Hanks thinks it’s the greatest film ever made.
My point to you is. It has a structure to it that it is very, very important to what we’re talking about. And Kubrick acknowledges it and observes it and goes forward. The problem is that the way he did it, made the film almost in many ways inaccessible. And so his film plays out in a way that the box office was determined, but then, he played it out in a way that when people revisited the film, and we’ll get into that. There’s movies that are like this. They revisit the film and it lives and it gets bigger and it gets bigger in 2001 and then now. Because he blew apart in many ways the kind of paradigm that we’re talking about and made it… He sat there and whipped it into what he wanted it to be. But whether he knew it or not, he lost the initial audiences, but then he got them later with what he was doing.
Ashley: And that was always my take from 2001: A Space Odyssey, was it always, it felt inaccessible. I mean, I saw this as a teenager and I think I went back and saw it once in my twenties. But there was no like emotional catharsis or there was no….. it was purely an… to me it was a purely an intellectual exercise and you can go into it. But I just, I didn’t get anything out of the movie emotionally. And that kind of takes us to the next film that we were gonna talk about, the Shawshank Redemption. Because I feel like that one works on a totally emotional, you have, it’s an emotional roller coaster watching it. It has so many of these moments, at least for me anyways, that really grabbed me emotionally. But maybe we can dig into that one a little bit.
Richard: Yeah. Totally. I love talking about The Shawshank Redemption in this kind of way. And the reason is, is because The Shawshank Redemption, very much like 2001 was a box office disaster, okay? Again, I know the people are Castle Rock and they are so Liz Glotzer, they should be applauded for putting out the money to do this kind of film, but the movie was a box office disaster. So that’s actually the… we’ll get into this. Let’s get into this straight. So the movie was released…
Ashley: But, and I will add one thing about that. I know that sort of the take on Shawshank Redemption. I think it came out in ‘95. That’s when, right when I moved to LA and people were watching the movie. And while it may not have been a box office hit, there was a general consensus that this was a really great film. Like I remember my movie friends, I was in LA and things. So I, and I wasn’t in LA when 2001: A Space Odyssey, so, I can’t speak to that. But I do think that, like, I don’t know that the fact it didn’t have, it wasn’t box office gold. It could have just been a coincidence. You know what I’m saying? It could have just, the marketing department just didn’t get it right. Because everybody I knew that watched it thought it was a fantastic film right when it came out on the theater.
Richard: So kind of both of what you’re, both parts of what you’re saying. Listen, so like when you look at the critical response, the critical response was very positive. And then when the academy awards came out, it was like nominated for five or six or something like that awards, right. But it didn’t win any of the academy awards for any of those awards that it was nominated for. And that’s a key point. Meaning that, maybe then the history of this film could have played out in a different way. Because a lot of films will not do great box office when they’re released, but then when they win some academy awards, then suddenly they, people go there and they’re discovered. So that didn’t happen as well.
And what I would say to you is, where I’m going, why I love Shawshank Redemption and talking about it is, because it’s almost like in many ways, except for the fact that it is in an adaptation. Let’s just imagine for a moment that it is the Frank Darabont like original thing. Because the Stephen King thing only makes the performance of the movie almost more pathetic. That it was based on Stephen King thing and it was still, did very badly. Okay. So listen. I actually have, like my history with the film was, I remember reading it, because it was a short story in different seasons when Stephen King wrote it. And I remember reading it, very specifically the four stories. I said, Shawshank would’ve been the last one that I would ever have chosen to adapt, because it just seemed very, very difficult to adapt.
But, here’s the point. The movie gets released, it does not do well for box office. Does not… it gets nominated but does not win any academy awards. And it basically, and, but the critics like it. They really like it. Rotten tomatoes wise, I think it does very, very well. And okay, so the then the film…
Ashley: It’s also, and I would like to point out, it’s also the number one film on IMDb by the user rating. So that’s not just a bunch of egghead critics. That’s actually people.
Richard: It’s very important to say that. I was gonna say that. That’s where I was going. IMDb it’s the number one film above the Godfather movies. So we’re talking about a movie that absolutely quality wise is fantastic. And I think it’s a master, I think it’s a masterpiece. A lot of people they think it’s a masterpiece. People think it’s a masterpiece. It’s a fantastic movie. Okay. But that was the autopsy on this movie, that basically, it became discovered through video and through cable television. People started to see it more. Now we’re moving forward, like ‘95. So around 2000 was around the time when this film started to really just get adopted. It just becomes adopted by a lot of people that visited for the very first time on cable or video and then keep on reviewing it because it’s really, really good.
So how does it work for our purposes? Well, for our purposes, what we’re trying to say then is, let’s explain what happened. Why didn’t it do extremely well when it got, when it opened? This to me, is one of the greatest reasons why Shawshank is to be examined. See basically, when I look at what I wrote down for Shawshank, this is what IMDb uses as their synopsis. Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency. Okay. So, if we were to talk about other films that I’ve written the IMDb synopsis for, I would be very critical about the way that those are written. But in many ways, this one is actually written very accurately about what the movie is about, what the movie is… the charms about this movie. If you’re gonna like it, you’re gonna like it because of this reason.
So, it’s a very accurate synopsis. But here’s the problem. At the outset, when you hear that said out loud and you’re like in a room pitching your script. You’re sitting there going, “Oh my God, what are you talking about?” Because, and here’s the thing. We were talking about, I think we were talking about execution based movies. And Shawshank is an execution based movie. Meaning that, if you pitched what I just pitched to you, then you would discover, “Oh my God, what are you talking about?” Again, imagining that it’s an original script that nobody knows what it is. That it doesn’t have the Stephen King moniker. That you’re pitching this, you’re just sitting there going, “Okay.” And you’re saying, it’s set in the prison, right? Yeah, it’s set in a prison.
And you’re looking redemption and all that. Okay. Now, that’s the executive. But I believe that when you say it, like all of what I just said, that’s the way audiences also perhaps perceived film or didn’t get that that’s what it was about. That they just saw a prison movie. Why? Because at the end of the day, what we’ve been talking about and why Shawshank Redemption is perfect, is that, here’s the setup. Andy Dufresne is on trial for murdering his wife and her lover. He claims to be innocent. At the end of the first act, we don’t know necessarily, if he is or he’s not. Okay. And Morgan’s character, Brad, is introduced. He’s the latest, we see him doing a parole application that’s rejected. And then during his narration, he sits there and he says, “When Andy said, “Smuggle Rita Hayworth into the prison,” I said, no problem. I told him no problem.”
So that then, basically is the lead up to the first, this is the first act, where we basically don’t know anything, except that we’re gonna get to this, right? Okay. So I’m gonna give you the bad version. So in other words, okay, we saw all this thing about Tim Robbins. And now here’s the bad version. So he is in prison. So he’s got some lawyers on the outside. So now he’s gonna work with those lawyers to find out who the real killer was. And we’re gonna see this all play out and everything like that. And we’re gonna see that defined in the first act plot point. Okay. No, that didn’t happen. Okay. So, and we can just keep on going down that line. So you can see how prison movies often have certain things that lead themselves to, this is what the movie is about. And then it goes in that direction.
Here’s the thing about Shawshank. It’s very, very, very, very soft about what the movie is really going to be about. Because, where we have the first act, which does announce itself, announce itself with very small letters at the 25 minute mark, it’s basically this. That we see Red and Andy, our two main characters, talk for the very first time. Where he’s asking for the hammer, he’s this and he’s that. Up to the 25 minute mark, all has been set up to, okay, that’s where the story’s gonna go or that’s gonna is, or this. But it basically boils down to this. That what they set up, and it ends with Morgan Freeman’s character saying, “I really, really liked Andy when I first got to finally talk to him.” And they end up becoming pals. But what is not alluded to, for instance, is that, Andy is eventually going to escape.
So, you do not have, for instance, in the first plot point where, “Hey look, I’m thinking about getting out of here. You with me?” “Yeah, okay. I’m with you. Let’s do this. Let’s do this.” Okay. No, you do not have that at the first plot point. In fact when Morgan Freeman’s character says, “You’re gonna use it to escape” he says like, “I don’t know why he said that,” blah, blah, blah. So bottom line is, that’s the way the short story was, that’s the way this movie is. Him escaping, ends up becoming something that ends up happening, but is not really built up to. It’s certainly not said as the first act plot point. Okay. So what are we saying? We are basically saying why love Shawshank Redemption is, that everything is very with this. Everything is very subtle.
It is about a relationship between these two characters. Because in any other movie, for instance, that was about a love story. At the 25 minute mark, this is about when they would meet and you would have that first thing. And then they would go on and was about, he loses her, she loses him, whatever. You would go in that direction. So that’s what this is about, but really what it’s really about, what the movie is about, is about survival in prison, then survival on the outside. But survival in prison, survival in prison with your dignity and your humanity and how you go about doing that. And that’s a thematic thing. Which I will say to you is, when somebody starts pitching me a story and they start going on thematic things, I go, “Stop, that’s not what the story is about.”
But in the case of Shawshank, that is what the story is about. And that is a very, very difficult pitch. Meaning it’s also a very, very difficult thing to market. And it’s a very, very difficult thing to get audiences to see a prison movie where you say, hey, it’s not about an escape. Or, it’s not about, somebody is a killer in prison and killing serial killers. And the prisoner has to figure out who it is to keep himself alive. It’s none of that. It is a very, very human story. And this is why Shawshank took a ton of time to finally find an audience that it deserved because it’s a great movie.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. For sure. Let’s dig into Psycho quickly. That’s another one where they really, where it’s known for having a kind of an odd structure. And so I’d be curious to kind of get your thoughts on that one.
Richard: Yeah Psycho, very quickly. It rolls down to this. Released in 1962. So Alfred Hitchcock, who was very much known to work with the writers that he worked on with pictures and it was based on a novel by Bloch. But he basically engineers the, he knows what the structure is for films and he plays around with it. Because he wants to make the audience uncomfortable. He wants to make them, he wants to shift their comfortable levels, so that when he reveals these certain things, that… So his basic thing is this. He sits there and he sets up Marion Crane, who is working as a secretary in this office in Arizona. And some, a high, lot of money is brought into the office. And by the end of the first act, the spin is, or it appears to be, that Marion has taken the money and she’s on the road, because she’s been having an affair with somebody.
So maybe she has in her idea in her head that she’s gonna call this lover, and she’s gonna say, “Hey, I’ve got all this money, come be with me now.” And so it appears at the first act break, that she’s on the run. And now it’s like, what will happen to her? Will she get away with it? Will she get away her lover? Will the cops find out, will they have a confrontation with the cops, will they this and that? So that’s how it appears at the first act break. But then, at a very important part of the film, Marion Crane gets killed. And this is during the second act break, when it’s been firmly established, frankly, what the first, the spin is. Now we then have to, oh, wow. We’re discombobulated as an audience. And we sit there and I see our main character getting killed.
And we realize now that this has all been kind of like definitely a kind of shocking moment. But it’s shocking structurally because basically what happens is, the film is really not about what we thought it was, but at a certain point now, it rejiggers. It reboots, and now it’s really about this guy who’s running this motel, who is in a really weird relationship with his mother, who’s dead, and he is killing people. And now it’s about the people that knew Marion coming into the plot and saying, “Hey, Marion, this is the last place she was,” and how he deals with that, and that spins off to the rest of the movie. So you almost have two kind of different plot points, and that happens occasionally. Happens quite a bit actually, but you definitely have it in Psycho.
That’s what made 1962 audiences go, “Oh my God, what’s going on, what’s happening?” And all this kind of stuff. Because when you kill the main character and you establish that this is what the movie is gonna be about, yeah, it could be kind of like crazy to the audience.
Ashley: And I think this goes to your point earlier. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, but do you think a new writer could get away with something like that? Certainly by the time Hitchcock did this, he was well renowned. So, sort of subverting very typical structure probably wasn’t, I mean, nobody really would question him at that point in his career. But do you think a new writer could get away with something like this?
Richard: Yeah. So that’s, I think it really is responsive to what we’re trying, what I’m trying to say here. So here’s the thing. If you are a new writer or if you’re a veteran writer whose script, for whatever reason, is just not getting covered or just not getting the right reviews, I would only speak to you and say to you, look. Look at this as the first possible problem. That what you have to do is, you’ve got to figure out something that invites the executives. The people and the professionals, an actor who you know you need to get this thing made, to be in love with this kind of thing. Whoever it might be. Then down the line audiences. You’ve got to come up with something that is… this is a terrible metaphor, but it’s like, you got to come up with a recipe for a dish, food wise, where it is something that is different but the same.
In other words, it’s like if you sat there and you suggested, this dish is about eating cockroaches. Okay, well we’re not gonna do that. But it’s also just a chicken dish with nothing else. You’re also gonna say, I’m not, I don’t really, I’m just gonna stick with my other chicken dishes that I’ve been doing, that I’ve been eating at other restaurants. You are trying to come up with a recipe that is something familiar, but something a little bit different. Something that is a little bit different that invites somebody to say, “Yeah, I wanna read that.” Or, “I’ve read that.” Or you’re trying audiences. You’ve got, when you see, I’ll give you a really quick example. Something that just appeared. Kate was just on Netflix. So Kate is an example of something that I say to you, is serviceable enough as a writing exercise as far as coming up with the concept and everything.
The thing is a vehicle for the direction, the production design, the acting. The movie I really liked a lot. But I’m saying to you, that the premise is, hit woman kills a guy in front of his daughter and has regrets. But then as the first act progresses, then she’s poisoned, and now she has to figure out who poisoned her so she can get revenge on that person. That’s good enough. Good enough, it kind of has remnants of other projects we’ve seen plenty of times, but it’s good enough to be a vehicle, that if the script is well written or good enough written, that it’s going to lead to people sitting there going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I wanna read that. Give me that. Give me that or I’m gonna go… we have this one director, he wants looking for stuff like John Wick. Let’s give him that.
Okay. So that’s what I’m preaching. I’m preaching that you have to come up with something that is going to get the attention of an executive, or it’s going to get the attention of an audience, because the executive is gonna be thinking about the audience. Are they going to… but when they, the person at Netflix says, “Oh, so this is the premise, they’re gonna say, yeah, I think my audience at Netflix is gonna, they’re gonna say, “Oh really? That a cool premise. Okay, let me see what’s going on with that and everything.” That’s what you have to come up with, and that’s what we’re talking about.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. I know I have a lot of TV writers listening to this podcast, and I know you had a couple TV shows that you thought could also illustrate these same points. And so I’d be curious to dive into those for a few minutes. Maybe we start with Breaking Bad. How does this break down? Is it, is your spin and your concept, is it, do you push it onto the entire series, do you push it onto each episode? But maybe you can break it down a little bit for us.
Richard: Yeah. So it’s a very complicated answer to a very complicated question [laughs]. And it’s really, it’s one of those things where… So frankly, all the action is intelligent. And so like, my answer is trying to just be, what is the basics? The basics is, like when we take Breaking Bad, the originator of the series and everything, show runner. They came up with a really cool concept, and the concept being that, here’s the concept, here’s the setup. They have the, Walter White is a high school science teacher who is suddenly diagnosed with cancer and given a very finite time to live. Like let’s say a year or so. And the spin is, he decides that he’s going to take the short time that he has alive to, because he’s capable of it, to suddenly do something that he would never have considered before.
To bake meth and sell that meth so he could provide for his family after he’s died. And this all sounds pretty clean and wilder version, and that’s the spin that he eventually goes. So to very specifically answer your question with Breaking Bad, that is quote unquote, “the thing, the setup, the spin” that kind of is the shadow overshadowing the entire series. This is what he’s done. And it resonates in character ways where he justifies his actions by saying, “I’m only doing this because I wanna give my wife and kid money,” dah dah dah. So it permeates everything that’s happening in this particular series, this original premise. But here’s the thing about TV series. So once you have that, you’re not, that gets you the pilot episode, it gets you a series order. That’s fantastic.
But the goal then becomes, that you still after, every show then demands that you have, quote unquote, “another spin” that lives on its own within the context of that bigger spin. And sits there and makes, it folds into that, it’s part of, organically, its part of the whole universe that you created with that first spin, and you are now, every episode, you have a new test for your audience to say, “Oh, we’ve got a story that you’ve got to see.” And at the 15 minute mark, that spin has to be in the same ways, very interesting, provocative, takes the story in a direction that you wouldn’t have thought maybe you would’ve taken in the very first, at the very beginning. That’s every episode. That’s the requirement. That’s what you’re trying to go for.
And then, to answer the last part of your thing is, with Breaking Bad, because Walter White was always alive and all that kinda stuff. When he died, that’s when the premise died. But with other series, sometimes series will begin with a certain premise and then eventually it might evolve. Sometimes very quickly evolve from that original premise and go away. But, the requirement on a, for a television writer working on staff, or a television writer who’s a show runner, or that is overseeing the whole thing, and it’s all moving forward with his supervision. You’re trying to come up with that really cool spin at the very beginning of every episode 15 minutes in, so that your audience is engaged in ways. And we’re talking the Simpsons. At the very beginning of the Simpsons, they’ll introduce something.
And then strangely 10 minutes later, a lot of times, the spin has nothing to do with what they just did, but that’s the spin and now it goes in that direction. So what we’re talking about is, this is the way television operates as well. Which makes television in many ways more rewarding, but way, way more challenging in some ways.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. What about Dexter? Maybe we can break that one down in a similar way.
Richard: Yeah. So Dexter is different in the way that it, it kind of like lands in a genre of like Law and Order, where… So, Law and Order is basically not what we were just now talking about. Law and order basically is episodic. So they don’t deal with anything about some overseeing kind of spin. They basically say our spin every night, so we don’t have to worry about the bigger overshadowing one. Our spin is that every night, there’s something that happens that we have to investigate and we have to prosecute, and that’s, that new thing every night is going to be our spin. That’s the premise that they’re operating on when they move forward. Okay. So and their goal by the way is, they try to do with Law and Order, they try to do a spin that occurs at the law side.
So a lot of times when you’re on the law side that has second half of that project, that film, sorry, that TV series, basically, it may not bear too much resemblance to the first part. They’re going after another spin that will spin the law part. So just to show you that, even with episodic genre things, they might have a structure within and structure that sits there and they operate under. Okay. But with Dexter, Dexter’s premise basically is this. And this is a key premise. This is one of the things where I said, “Hey look, let’s look at IMDb.” IMDb has the worst Dexter summation. He’s smart, he’s lovable. He’s Dexter Morgan. America’s favorite serial killer who spends his days solving crimes and nights committing them. Golden Globe winner, Michael C. Hall stars in the hit Showtime original series.
If you walk in and you try to pitch something like that along those lines, or if this is like you’ve written a script, and now you’re trying to get somebody to read it, that’s the worst synopsis you could possibly imagine. Because basically, Dexter actually has a very good synopsis. Now, we have to imagine that this is when Dexter was originally conceived and so there’s so much more now. Live repeaters and people doing versions of it. But when it originally came out, the basic premise was this. Dexter Morgan has all the clinically defined predisposition character traits of a serial killer. He wants to kill, he has to kill. The spin- with his father’s help, Dexter channels the serial killer need, into killing those who have escaped justice.
He works in the forensic lab in the homicide department of a police department, which makes it easier to see who is really guilty and who might be getting away. So in other words, that’s the overall premise. And then they do kind of like the law and order thing, but there is a continuing story line. Usually because they’ll bring on some guest star who will be in several episodes and everything. So there’s this overarching thing. But for a lot of times, what Dexter is about, is about, there is a problem in that episode that he sits there and kind of solves. And then the overarching thing might be an episode that totally pays service to something like that, and it is like, it is more in command and it’s more alike about that, and then it services the relationships that he might have.
And as the story progresses and we get closer to the end of the time, then all the relationships come into play. So these are the things, at the end of the day, Dexter has that premise, has that spin, and that is the overshadow of, now every episode, let’s come up with a spin that makes that particular episode something that’s gonna be really interesting and something that is very different than what we saw before.
Ashley: I wonder if we could throw in one more counter film before we wrap up. And I just. And this is gonna be a total curve ball. But it occurred to me as we were going through the ones that were sort of counter to what we were trying to do, is a film like Pulp Fiction, where the structure is totally, totally idiosyncratic. Maybe you can break down that one a little bit for us and then we can dive into it.
Richard: Okay. You definitely caught me by surprise. Simply because, no, listen, and I’ll tell you why, because Pulp Fiction’s a tough one. In the same kind of way, I’ll briefly say, like Alien, the original Alien has a premise where the alien breaks through his stomach at 35 minutes. And so you know that that isn’t the first act break, the spin. That it is actually when John Hurt’s character gets that. So you have to like go back and you have to say this and that, but then you have to say, “Oh my gosh, wow. Then is there problems with doing something like that,” blah, blah, blah. I bring that up to start to talk about Pulp Fiction. So Pulp Fiction is a good one.
Ashley: Just to clarify, you’re saying the spin is when he gets it on his face, or when the alien pops out of his stomach?
Richard: The spin actually is, when he gets it on his face. Because the reality is, the long version, I would just simply try to sum up with that. When I originally saw that in 1979 and the movie is a masterpiece and I love the movie. And I’ve seen the first 55 minutes more than I’ve seen the final 55 minutes. So I love the movie. But what I am gonna say is that, when I first saw it as a young person, I was kind of like, “Oh, this is deliberately paced. This is not as exciting as I thought it was going to be.” And basically it boils down to that when you are, that when John Hurt has the thing on his face, that’s at the 35… I think I might have misspoken before. That’s at the 35 minute mark. That when the stomach thing breaks out, that’s at the 55.
So I did misspeak. That’s at the 55 minute mark. So, what you basically have is, I felt like when I was younger, that the 55 minute mark was when the film really did take off, and it was really unbelievably unrelenting as far as the excitement level was concerned. But that was 55 minutes to the two hour mark. So for up to that point, it was interesting. And as I said, as I’ve gotten older, my thing was, I love the first 55 minutes more than I love probably the other one. But the reality is this. That at the 35 minute mark, that’s pretty long. That’s pretty far in to the movie to have your first, your spin. But that’s when it is. Because again, using the kind of things that we’ve been talking about, they’re investigating in a planet, stress call, spaceship is detoured from home, blah, blah, blah.
They land on this planet, and when the thing spins off in a different direction, is when John Hurt is actually attacked by that thing. That’s at the 35 minute mark. So, that’s kind of late and it boils down to this. It sits there and says something about, well, there you are, 1979. Maybe the sensibilities of audiences were so much more forgiving, or that the images and everything, and I’m going for the second part. The images and everything was way, way exciting and interesting and distinctive and everything that you just, you’ve riveted. You didn’t care if what didn’t happen in the first 35 minutes. It was all really exciting stuff. So that’s what I would say to you, that that’s an example of somebody that breaks kind of like a timeline, kind of when I should reveal this first act break. This spin.
So now, let’s talk about Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction is really difficult because it’s a fractured storyline that he’s telling. But let’s see if we can agree that in a weird way, the Bruce Willis part of the story is about as important source wise as the John Travolta, I’ll just say, John Travolta story is. So, you have these two things that are competing. But the Bruce Willis one, when you break it all down, it’s the one that has a little bit more, to the storyline than the John Travolta one, but the John Travolta one has a lot. Boils down to this. It’s very, very hard to define what the first act break is, because I don’t believe that there quote unquote “really is one”. And that’s why I think that it is one of the ones that really is just a real Maverick.
I love the Kill Bill movies, but Pulp Fiction would be right there with Kill Bill movies, as far as what I believe is the greatest thing Quentin Tarantino has done. But part of that is because of him messing around with the structure. Now, what I will say is this, that when he messes around with the structure, it’s amazing because he has one of the characters getting killed, and John Travolta’s character, and then resurrecting that character at the end. That’s where he does the nonlinear narrative storytelling and he makes it all work. So the bottom line is. I know this is, it sounds like a cop out, but I swear this is where I’m at with Pulp Fiction. I honestly believe that the actual break is this. Hey, at a certain point in the film, all these stories they’re integrated.
They’re all involved together. I actually believe in many ways, that’s the actual break. Is the audience then, it occurs to the audience because he’s letting you know that they’re all separate, but integrated. That they all will mesh together. And that’s actually the act break. Because it’s the only thing I can come up with, because there are things that he doesn’t quote unquote “satisfy” that he satisfies in other ways that leads me to that. There you are [laughs].
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I’m glad we talked about that a little bit, because I think on the running, the counter movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s very thematic. Like it’s all, the theme is sort of the thing that pulls it through. The Shawshank Redemption, as I said, there’s sort of this emotional thread to it. But it’s very soft. But it’s very… I would describe that as sort of very soft as you sort of pointed out in the plot point. But Psycho is just, it’s a purposeful sort of red herring. He purposely, he goes against our expectations of structure in a purpose way to sort of subvert what we’re gonna purposely get there. And I think Pulp Fiction is yet another example. But again, I really wanna reiterate that, we are in agreement that these films are all excellent films.
And so, you don’t, you can still work. But it goes to your big point, which is, can a new writer do something this out there structurally, to actually get that movie into production. And all four of those movies we mentioned, they were made, even Quentin Tarantino had Reservoir Dogs under his belt. So they all had a pretty good track record by the time they did these films.
Richard: Yeah, absolutely. In other words, they got made because the people that made them could make them. And I would definitely say that my appeal is not to those kind of people, but my appeal is to, hey, look at what you can do and what you should do. You should be doing this, this and this, but make sure that it has this and this and this. And then the people that would say, and then say to me, “Hey, well, I wanna be a Maverick. I wanna do this.” I would say, “Yeah. Do, be a Maverick. Do that, do that. But get on the map first. Do these things, get something, project going and everything, then be a Maverick. Be that kind of person, because success allows you to be that kind of Maverick, because you can be a Maverick from nowhere, but then what you are saying to yourself is, are you good?
Are you good? You gonna be good for like two or three decades before maybe your work is actually discovered. Before your script is actually, “Hey, this is good. Let’s make this.” That’s the thing. You just have to say to yourself, so why not have something that is really solid about, like what we’ve been talking about, and dah, dah, dah. And then have that other thing, that Maverick thing, waiting in the little things. That’s what, that’s basically what I’m trying to say.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, and I think Richard, we’ve been at this for well over two hours. I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me. This has been a fascinating discussion. So thank you. Thank you very much for taking the time and to just come on and talk with me. I always like to just end up the interviews, anything you wanna tell the audience in terms of how they can keep up with what you’re doing. Anything you wanna share with them, promote some of your own projects or anything like that, you can share that now.
Richard: Yeah, no, I don’t really, I really came on to just sit there and talk about, in a very kind of like, weirdly, a very academic kind of way, about one of the things that is very, very, very important. And I would just simply kind of like, this is what I’m choosing to end with. I’m choosing to end with, look, we’ve talked about the industry. About what we really are, this is about, is like making movies for people, audiences. And you’re choosing to make, you’re not choosing to make home movies or write a home movie. So you’re choosing to do something for mass audiences. And so I would then, I think something that hasn’t been emphasized that I would love to close with, is that, look, audiences have been saturated with movies through three or four generations.
And their generational thing is, they have a feeling, they have a gut. With all these movies that they, television shows that they watch, what feels right, what doesn’t feel right. And so, what you basically are doing as a writer is, you are understanding what those things are. And so, you don’t wanna be a rebel. What you want to be, is somebody that is very, very clever about what kind of story you want to tell, and you wanna tell it in a way that your audience receives it. And now, you can be very, very intelligent about that. So that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about dumbing down your idea, dumbing down your process. What we are talking about though is, audiences have a feeling. They have this thing that when they’re watching something, they’re processing it.
Whether they can articulate it later, some can, that’s why you have all these people writing online. Some can’t, but they all in many ways feel, this is what’s happening, this didn’t work, this is it. And there’s reasons for this feeling. And all I’m saying to you is, just know that what you’re doing when you do all the things that we’re talking about. These successful films, whether they were box office successes immediately or box office successes not at all, and then became critical successes later, these films stand the test of time because in some way or thing, they either understood how it was done and did it, or understood how it was done and changed it a bit. Or did it in a very, very clever way, where it sat there and worked in a way where they allowed the thing to work against itself, in favor of itself.
So I do appreciate it. Thank you so much. But I’m not, because we took so much, so long, I’m not gonna be back again, right? You can just tell me right now. I’m not gonna be back.
Ashley: No, no, believe me, I’m sure we’ll have many, many more discussions in the future. No, I look forward to having you on again for sure. No, this has been a great interview, and I’m kind of mixing it up, so we’ll get some feedback from our audience. But for sure, I think this is a great thing. I’m saving this one for my 400th episode, just to do something a little bit different than what I normally do. So again Richard, really a big thank you. I really do appreciate.
Richard: Thank you Ashley. Okay, I really appreciate it. Ashley, thank you very much.
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I will, of course link to the course in the show notes, and I will put a link to the course on the homepage up in the right hand side bar. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Janek Ambros, who just did a really indie film called Mondo Hollywoodland. He’s a writer, director, producer with a number of indie credits. We talk through his career, how he’s been able to get some of these projects going, how he got to start, and of course, how he got his most recent film produced, Mondo Hollywoodland. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show, thank you for listening.