Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ON STORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Screenwriting 101 Vol. 1 of 2

Hulk delivers a seven-part tome on the tenets of screenwriting. Following are Parts 1-4.

Screenwriting 101 Vol. 1 of 2

THIS PART ONE OF TWO. PART TWO HERE.

SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY?

KNOW THIS: THERE ARE OVER A MILLION SCRIPTS FLOATING AROUND HOLLYWOOD. HULK HAS READ, OH... A COUPLE THOUSAND OF THEM. AND NEARLY EVERY SINGLE PERSON HULK MEET IN "THE INDUSTRY" HAS A SCRIPT OF SOME SORT. SO YES, IT IS SAFE TO SAY THAT SCREENPLAYS ARE AN ABSOLUTELY PERVASIVE PART OF THE CULTURE. NOT ONLY DOES THE SHEER VOLUME OF SCRIPTS MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO DISTINGUISH ONESELF IN THIS CLIMATE, BUT SO DOES THE FACT THAT THERE ARE ALREADY A VAST NUMBER OF TALENTED WRITERS IN NEED OF WORK. AND LASTLY, CONSIDER THE FACT THAT THE ART OF STORYTELLING IS SOMETHING THAT IS ALREADY INGRAINED INTO OUR CULTURE. SO GIVEN ALL THESE PERTINENT REALITIES, HULK HAS ONE VERY SIMPLE QUESTION:

WHY DO MOST MOVIES HAVE MAJOR SCRIPT PROBLEMS?

QUITE FRANKLY, THE ANSWER LIES IN A LOT INDUSTRY BULLSHIT. MEANING THERE IS A GOOD DEAL OF PUTTING THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE SO TO SPEAK AND MOVING ON WITH A MOVIE BEFORE YOU REALLY HAVE A STORY... BUT THIS COLUMN IS NOT ACTUALLY ABOUT THAT. NOR IS THIS COLUMN IS ABOUT WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL, POP, OR THAT CAN BE PITCHED TO A STUDIO. WHILE THESE ELEMENTS ARE ALL IMPORTANT TO BEING A SUCCESS, IT IS NOT A PART OF WHAT WE SHALL DISCUSS HERE. IN FACT, HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT IF YOU ONLY POSSESS THE ABILITY TO SELL, POP AND PITCH, THEN YOU CAN ONLY HAVE THE KIND OF SUCCESS THAT DOES NOT LAST.

MEANWHILE, KNOWING HOW TO WRITE, LASTS.

SO THE FOLLOWING GARGANTUAN, SEVEN-PART COLUMN IS HULK'S HUMBLE ATTEMPT TO TRY SHED SOME LIGHT ON HOW TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER AND STORYTELLER. THE FIRST THREE PARTS OF THE COLUMN ARE RATHER CONCEPTUAL. THEY TAKE A GREAT DEAL OF TIME TO WAX PHILOSOPHICAL ON THE STATE OF MIND AND PURPOSE ONE NEEDS TO APPROACH STORYTELLING. BUT THE LAST FOUR PARTS OF THE COLUMN ARE (THANKFULLY) RATHER PRACTICAL IN TERMS OF HOW TO TACKLE THE CRAFT AND SCREENPLAY-SPECIFIC CONVENTIONS.

AT THIS POINT, HULK WOULD BE REMISS IF HULK DID NOT MENTION THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION: THE FOLLOWING COLUMN IS, IN ALL SERIOUSNESS, THE LENGTH OF A BOOK. ALL THIS MEANS IS THAT YOU CAN FEEL FREE APPROACH THIS COLUMN ANY WAY YOU SEE FIT. HULK DID NOT WANT TO BREAK IT UP INTO SEVERAL COLUMNS OVER THE COURSE OF DAYS, BECAUSE HULK FELT LIKE IT WAS STILL ONE SINGULAR IDEA. AND WHILE YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO BE READ IN ONE SITTING, HULK TRIED TO MAKE THE STRUCTURE AS DIGESTIBLE AND EASY TO NAVIGATE AS POSSIBLE (MOST OF THE SUBJECTS ARE LISTED BY POINT NUMBER). WHATEVER SHORT COMINGS THIS APPROACH HAS IN TERMS OF PONTIFICATION, THE PIECE WILL CERTAINLY NOT HAVE OTHERS FROM A LACK OF EFFORT.

WE LIKE TO THINK OF INTERNET ARTICLES AS THESE TIMELY, DISPOSAL THINGS, BUT HULK STANDS DEFIANTLY AGAINST THAT NOTION. A SIMPLE "BLOG POST" CAN BE MORE IF WE WANT THEM TO BE. WE BOTH JUST HAVE TO CHANGE OUR DEFINITION. HULK REALLY WANTS TO BELIEVE THIS COLUMN CAN WORK LIKE A BOOK, SOMETHING THAT CAN EASILY BE RETURNED TO OVER TIME. HULK WANTS THIS COLUMN TO ALWAYS BE HERE IF BY CHANCE YOU NEED IT. AND LIKE MOST HULK COLUMNS, IT'S HULK-SIZED-NESS IS INFORMED BY THE SHEER MASS OF THE SUBJECT ITSELF; FOR THE ART OF STORYTELLING, WHETHER WE DISTILL IT IN TERMS OF THE IDEAS, THE KNOW-HOW, OR ITS EFFECT ON AUDIENCE, IS AN ART THAT IS AS VARIED AS OUR OWN LIVES, AND AS EXPANSIVE AS OUR OWN UNIVERSE.

AT THE SAME TIME, PLEASE KNOW THIS COLUMN IS NOT MEANT TO BE SOME AUTHORITARIAN RANT ON HULK'S PART. IT IS MEANT TO BE HELPFUL. NOTHING MORE. NOTHING LESS. THE MOTIVES FOR WRITING IT ARE BORN FROM A GENUINE SENSE OF CAMARADERIE, FROM KNOWING THE SAME STRUGGLE THAT ALL WRITERS GO THROUGH. AND IF YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH THAT STRUGGLE THEN YOU KNOW THAT IT IS SHAM FOR ANY WRITER TO REPRESENT THEMSELVES AS AN AUTHORITY. THERE IS ONLY THE LONESOME STRUGGLE TO EXECUTE ONE'S IDEAS. IT IS CONSTANT, PERVASIVE, AND EVER-LASTING. HULK BELIEVES THIS STRUGGLE IS TOUGH ON WRITERS. IT MAKES FOR A SOLITARY LIFE. AND TRYING BATTLES WITH ONES OWN MIND. IT FOSTERS A SOLIPSISTIC SENSE OF INDEPENDENCE, WHICH CAN ALSO BREED CONTEMPT. SO AS MUCH AS ANYTHING, HULK WRITES ESSAYS LIKE THIS IN AN ATTEMPT TO CONNECT. TO SHARE. TO NOT FEEL LIKE WE ARE SO ALONE IN THE PURSUIT.

AS SUCH, THIS COLUMN IS MEANT FOR WRITERS FOR EVERY SINGLE LEVEL. INTRODUCTORY, INTERMEDIATE, AND WORKING PROS WHO PERHAPS KNOW MOST OF THESE THINGS EITHER IN A CONSCIOUS OR UNCONSCIOUS MANNER, BUT COULD ALWAYS BENEFIT FROM SEEING THE IDEAS ALL LAID OUT. EVEN CERTIFIED GENIUSES CAN SOMETIMES OVERLOOK SOME MISSING ELEMENT IT MAY TAKE TO FULLY ELEVATE THEIR SCRIPT. AND YES, THIS COLUMN IS EVEN MEANT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NO INTEREST IN SCREENWRITING WHATSOEVER, BUT ARE JUST CURIOUS ABOUT HOW THE PROCESS AFFECTS WHAT THEY SEE ON SCREEN.

BECAUSE ULTIMATELY THIS ISN'T ABOUT THE PATH TO SUCCESS, OR INDUSTRY SECRETS, OR SOME ETHEREAL CONCEPT OF IMPORT...

...THIS IS ABOUT TRYING ONE'S HARDEST TO WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT WORK.

PART ONE - WHAT IS A STORY?

YOU OBVIOUSLY KNOW WHAT HULK MEANS WHEN HULK SAYS STORY, BUT LET'S TRY AND DEFINE IT IN ONE SENTENCE.

... YEAH, IT'S KIND OF HARD.

LIFE IS FULL OF THESE OBVIOUS, TANGIBLE CONCEPTS THAT WE RECOGNIZE SO EASILY, THINGS LIKE LOVE, ANGER, HAPPINESS, JEALOUSY, AND LUST (CAN'T FORGET LUST!). WE USE THESE WORDS EVERY SINGLE DAY, BUT RARELY DO WE TRY TO ACTUALLY DEFINE THEM IN ONE SINGULAR, CLEAR WAY. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ATTEMPTS MADE BY THE WORLDS GREAT THINKERS. THE MAKE UP ALL THOSE LOFTY QUOTES YOU'VE HEARD AT SOME POINT AND THEY HAVE EITHER GONE ON TO INSPIRE PEOPLE, OR JUST FILL UP THOSE WEIRD "BEST QUOTES EVER!" WEB-PAGES THAT LOOK LIKE THEY WERE DESIGNED IN 1996. BUT THESE WELL-MEANING ATTEMPTS AT DEFINITION BECOME EVEN MORE PROBLEMATIC WHEN YOU CONSIDER THE TOTALITY AND RANGE OF MOST THOSE CONCEPTS. TO EMBRACE THAT RANGE MEANS NOT CATERING TO A SIMPLE ONE-OFF LIKE "LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY." BUT CONSIDERING EVERYTHING THAT IT TRULY MEANS (AND COME ON, "NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY?" MOST OF US SHOULD BE APOLOGIZING FOR LIKE 60% OF THE THINGS WE SAY AND DO).

SO HULK WANTS TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE WORD STORY, AS IN "WHAT IS A STORY?"

WE COULD JUST CALL A STORY "ONE OF THOSE THINGS PEOPLE TELL" AND BE DONE WITH IT, BUT THAT'S NOT VERY HELPFUL NOW, IS IT? IMAGINE IF ALIENS LANDED DOWN ON THE PLANET AND THE FATE OF THE HUMAN RACE DEPENDING ON YOU EXPLAINING IN A CLEAR WAY WHAT A STORY WAS. IT'S SO HARD BECAUSE STORIES CAN HAVE SO MANY DIFFERENT PURPOSES. THEY CAN BE ACCOUNTS OF FACTS. FULL-ON NARRATIVES. RUMORS. LEGENDS. NEWS ARTICLES. BACKGROUND INFORMATION. THE WORD ITSELF IS SO UNBELIEVABLY DEXTEROUS, SO HOW DO WE NARROW IT DOWN?

FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS ARTICLE, HULK WILL MOSTLY BE TALKING ABOUT KIND OF STORYTELLING WE CALL NARRATIVE. AND NARRATIVES ARE ONLY SOMETHING THAT HUMANS HAVE BEEN CREATING SINCE THE FREAKIN' DAWN OF CULTURE. BORN FROM THE NEED TO COMMUNICATE THE MOST RUDIMENTARY CONCEPTS OF LANGUAGE, NARRATIVES FIRST SPRANG UP AS PART OF THE ORAL TRADITION, BUILT AROUND CAMPFIRES AND COMMUNAL EXPERIENCE. THEN WE MADE SYMBOLS. WROTE. PAINTED. AND THE MEDIUMS, FORMATS, AND SHAPES OF AUDIENCES HAVE CHANGED MANY TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF TIME, BUT THE STUNNING IMPORTANCE OF NARRATIVE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THERE. THE ARCHAIC TROPES AND DEVICES INVOLVED IN THESE NARRATIVES HAVE STAYED IN TACT AND REMAIN WHOLLY RELEVANT FOR GOOD REASON: NARRATIVES ALLOW US TO COME TO A SENSE OF UNDERSTANDING ABOUT LIFE AND OUR FUNCTION WITHIN IT.

WHY IS THIS HISTORY IS IMPORTANT? BECAUSE IT TELLS US WHY WE STILL FREAKIN' DO IT.

THINK ABOUT IT. PARENTS TRY TO TEACH THEIR CHILDREN WHAT TO DO. TEACHERS INSTRUCT PUPILS. ELDERS TALK TO YOUNGINS. THEY CAN ALWAYS SAY "DO THIS!" OR "DO THAT!" BUT BY TELLING THE STORY THEY CAN CONVEY SO MUCH MORE THAN MERE INSTRUCTION. THEY CONVEY MEANING. CONSEQUENCE. ACTION. INACTION. PURPOSE. IT'S ALL THERE. NARRATIVES MEAN SO MUCH TO OUR CULTURE, NOT JUST BECAUSE THEY INVOKE A BASIC SENSE OF MORALITY, BUT BECAUSE THEY MAKE OUR VERY HUMANITY SOMETHING UNDERSTANDABLE. THEY MAKE OUR HUMANITY SOMETHING FELT.

THIS SHOULD BE YOUR PURPOSE. IDEALLY, WHATEVER IT IS THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO COMMUNICATE TO BOTH THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU AND FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS SHOULD BE SOMETHING THAT EXISTS IN YOUR STORY. IT SHOULD BE THE VERY POINT OF YOUR STORY. IT SHOULD BE YOUR PURPOSE.

OKAY, WE GET IT HULK! NARRATIVES ARE IMPORTANT! THAT'S WHY WE'RE HERE READING!

OKAY, SORRY, SORRY! HULK JUST HAD TO MAKE IT CLEAR IN CASE IT WASN'T. SOME FOLKS JUST NEED TO BE REMINDED WHY WE REALLY DO THIS STUFF. NARRATIVES ACTUALLY MATTER. WHEN WE GET OLDER WE TEND TO LOSE SIGHT OF HOW AMAZING AND NEW THESE SIMPLE CONCEPTS FEEL TO YOU, BUT ASK ANY TEACHER ABOUT THAT ONE. BECAUSE EVERY HIGH SCHOOL KID IN THE COUNTRY IS DISCOVERING THE SAME IDEAS YOU DID IN HIGH SCHOOL AND THEY FEEL JUST AS REVOLUTIONARY TO THEM. THEY WERE THE IDEAS THAT BLEW YOUR MINDS AND SHAPED YOUR LIVES. THIS HAPPENS LESS AND LESS FREQUENTLY WITH ADULTHOOD, BUT OUR DUTY IS INSTEAD TO PASS ON THAT MEANING. THE CYCLE OF THESE IDEAS ARE NOT ONLY CONSTANT, BUT CRITICAL. HULK CONSIDERS THE PASSING OF THESE ARCHAIC TRUTHS TO BE A MEANINGFUL DUTY.

BUT YES, YOU ARE PROBABLY RIGHT, YOU PROBABLY THINK STORIES MATTER TOO.

SO NOW REAL QUESTION IS WHAT MAKES A GOOD NARRATIVE?

IS IT SOMETHING THAT INVOLVES YOU? THAT IS WELL-REALIZED? THAT FEELS HONEST AND REAL? THAT IS CRAFTED WITHOUT EXTRANEOUS EXCESS? THAT GETS YOU TO LEARN SOMETHING YOU NEVER KNEW BEFORE? OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT SPEAKS TO SOME ARCHAIC TRUTH THAT YOU NOW RECOGNIZE IN YOUR SELF?

THE CORRECT ANSWER IS "YES."

WHY GOOD FRIEND, A GOOD STORY DOES ALL THOSE THINGS. THERE IS, OF COURSE, SOME AMOUNT OF WIGGLE ROOM WHEN IT COMES TO HOW SUCCESSFUL A STORY NEEDS TO BE AT EACH OF THOSE ELEMENTS. FOR INSTANCE, IF YOUR STORY IS REALLY CONCERNED WITH THE THEMATIC MEANING OF A SCENE IT CAN INDULGE IN SOME ASPECTS THAT ARE NOT WHOLLY CRITICAL FOR THE STORY, BUT REALLY THERE IS A NEGOTIATION TO ALL THIS. YOU CAN'T LOSE SIGHT OF ALL THE THINGS A GOOD STORY NEEDS, BUT WHEN YOU DO IT HAS TO BE FOR A REALLY GOOD REASON. SURE THAT GOOD REASON MOSTLY DEPENDS ON WHAT IS MATTERS TO YOU, THE PROVERBIAL AUTHOR, OR YOU, THE PROVERBIAL AUDIENCE MEMBER, BUT HULK STILL THINKS IT'S SAFE TO SAY THAT IF YOU LOOK DOWN THE LIST OF GREAT AND / OR FAVORITE FILMS, THAN YOU WILL FIND THAT THOSE STORIES REALLY DO CAPTURE ALL OF THESE ELEMENTS.

SO LET'S JUST GO FOR IT! HERE HULK PRESENTS A WORKING DEFINITION OF IDEAL STORYTELLING: A GOOD NARRATIVE IS COMPELLING TO THE AUDIENCE, ECONOMICALLY TOLD, FEELS REAL EITHER IN TERMS OF EMOTION, DETAIL, OR TEXTURE, AND SPEAKS TO SOME THEMATIC TRUTH THAT YOU RECOGNIZE IN YOURSELF OR THE WORLD AT LARGE.

TA-DA! ALL HULK HAD TO DO WAS CHEAT WITH A RUN-ON SENTENCE AND LIST THE STUFF HULK SAID EARLIER.

YOU MAY HAVE ALSO NOTICED THAT WE HAVE NOW ANOTHER HULK-DEFINITION THAT HAS A REALLY HIGH STANDARD FOR EXECUTION. REMEMBER THIS DEFINITION NOT MEANT TO BE EXCLUSIVE, BUT TO SIMPLY SET THE KIND OF MODEL FOR HOW TO CREATE THE BEST POSSIBLE STORIES. THE DEFINITION IS MEANT TO BE AN INSPIRATION AND PRACTICAL. ALL THE BEST STORIES ARE MULTIFACETED, COMPLEX, INTERESTING, AND RESONANT. NO MATTER HOW TECHNICALLY "UNTRUE" A STORY MAY BE, A WELL-TOLD, COMPELLING ONE WILL STILL FEEL MORE REAL THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD POSSIBLY COULD. THE BEST STORIES SPEAK TO YOUR MIND (THEMATICALLY), BODY (VISCERALLY), AND SOUL (RESONANCE). SO OF COURSE YOU WANT YOUR STORIES TO DO THE SAME.

WHEN YOU LOOK BACK TO THE HISTORY OF OUR SPECIES, IT TELLS YOU EVERYTHING TO DO. IT TELLS YOU THE PURPOSE OF THE STORYTELLER, WHICH IS NOT MERELY HERE TO ENTERTAIN (THOUGH THAT'S CERTAINLY PART OF IT), BUT TO ENGAGE THE YOUNGER GENERATION THE TOOLS THEY NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO CARRY ON.

IT MEANS YOU SHOULD EMBRACE THE HIGH STANDARD. SIT DOWN AND LOOK AT THAT DEFINITION AND LOOK AT YOUR OWN STORIES. ASK YOURSELF, ARE YOU TRYING TO BE COOL INSTEAD OF COMPELLING? ARE YOU TRYING TO BE FUNNY AND EDGY INSTEAD OF BEING REAL TO YOUR CHARACTERS? OR INSTEAD OF TO THE WORLD YOU'VE CREATED? HECK, ARE YOU EVEN THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOUR STORY SAYS ON AN LARGER THEMATIC LEVEL? QUITE SIMPLY, ARE YOU DOING ALL THE THINGS YOU NEED TO FIT OUR WORKING DEFINITION OF A GOOD NARRATIVE?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS WILL TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW.

OKAY, GEE THANKS HULK FOR THE BIG DEFINITION THERE, BUT I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO EVEN BEGIN. WHAT KIND OF STORIES DO I EVEN TELL?

HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT YOU IMPLICITLY KNOW STORIES. YOU KNOW THEM IN YOUR BONES. YOU'VE SEEN / READ / HEARD THOUSANDS. YOU, NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE, INSTINCTIVELY KNOW WHAT MAKES STORIES GOOD AND HOW THEY WORK.

THE KEY IS BECOMING AWARE OF WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW.

PART TWO - WHERE TO FIND INSPIRATION

FOR SOME PEOPLE, THE HARDEST PART OF WRITING IS FINDING INSPIRATION.

THE PROBLEM WITH HELPING ONE FIND INSPIRATION IS THAT IT SORT OF HAS TO BE A NATURAL, ORGANIC THING. YOU CAN'T FORCE IT. IT TAKES PRACTICE, PATIENCE, AND A LOT OF WORK. HULK MEAN, HULK COULD GIVE YOU A THOROUGHLY BAD ANSWER OF SAYING "STORIES ARE ALL AROUND YOU! YOU JUST HAVE TO LOOK FOR THEM!" BUT THAT DOESN'T REALLY HELP, EVEN IF THE STATEMENT IS SADLY TRUE. STORIES AND INSPIRATION ACTUALLY ARE EVERYWHERE. AND IF YOU TRAIN YOUR EYE THEN THEY BECOMES CONSTANT, PERVASIVE, AND EVEN SUFFOCATING. BUT IDENTIFYING WHAT MAKES A STORY WORTH TELLING VS. SOMETHING THAT ISN'T WORTH TELLING IS A MATTER THAT TAKES A LITTLE UNDERSTANDING AND LARGELY DEPENDS ON YOUR DISPOSITION.

SO FIRST LET YOU AND HULK DECIPHER WHY THE MOMENT OF INSPIRATION REALLY MATTERS. IT'S NOT JUST THE STARTING POINT, BUT SOMETHING THAT CAN WORK AS A BACKBONE FOR THE ENTIRE PROCESS. HULK HAS TONS OF IDEAS AND THEY EXIST IN VARIOUS FORMS: BRAIN STORMS, OUTLINES, HALF-WRITTEN SCREENPLAYS, FULLY-WRITTEN SCREENPLAYS, SHORT STORIES, TELEPLAYS, NOVELS. EVEN A LITANY OF SMALL IDEAS WRITTEN ON NAPKINS AND SCRAPS OF PAPER. WHAT THIS PERSONAL INFORMATION IS MEANT TO IMPLY IS THAT THE RELATIVE "DONE-NESS" OR FORM OF THE PROPERTY HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE IDEA AND CONCEPT ITSELF. A FINISHED FILM IS AS CLOSE TO THE INSPIRATION AND IDEA AS THAT LITTLE SCRIBBLED NOTE ON A NAPKIN. TO THE CREATOR, THEY ARE CONCEPTUALLY THE SAME EXACT THING. NEVER FORGET THAT. BECAUSE THE GERM OF YOUR IDEA CAN BE THE THING THAT MUST CONSTANTLY LIGHT THE FIRE UNDERNEATH YOU. WHILE IN THE SLOG OF WORKING IT OUT YOU MUST FIND THAT INSPIRATION. THE IDEA ITSELF BE A THROUGH-LINE THAT SAVES YOUR SCRIPT THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS. THE MOMENT OF INSPIRATION IS BOTH YOUR MOTIVE AND MOTIVATION.

BUT EVEN THEN, WHERE TO GET THAT IDEA WRITTEN ON A NAPKIN? THE GERM OF THE IDEA? THE VERY FIRST THING THAT YOU WRITE DOWN? THE ANSWERS TO THOSE QUESTIONS ARE SO ETHEREAL AND VAGUE THAT IT IS ALMOST FOOLISH TO REALLY TRY AND ANSWER IT. BUT, FOOLISH AS IT MAY BE, HULK WANTS TO HELP YOU. SO HULK GOING TO DO HULK'S BEST HERE AND TRY TO GIVE SOME PRODUCTIVE WAYS OF FINDING STORIES YOU WANT TO TELL.

HULK WILL START WITH A QUESTION: WHAT COMPELS YOU?

AT FIRST, TRY TO ANSWER IT ON A MACRO LEVEL: ARE YOU CONCERNED WITH YOUTH ISSUES? ANIMALS? CROOKED POLITICIANS? THE UNSUNG PLIGHT OF NURSES? CORRUPT BUSINESS MEN? YOU ARE REALLY ASKING YOURSELF, WHAT DO I HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT? PEOPLE LOOK FOR THESE KIND OF BROAD TOPICS IN COMING UP WITH IDEAS DOCUMENTARIES ALL THE TIME, BUT IT IS ALSO A GREAT WAY TO APPROACH FICTION. OFTEN THESE ISSUES HAVE SOME SORT OF PERSONAL RELEVANCE, WHICH  SPEAKS TO THE OLD ADAGE "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW," BUT HULK THINK THAT PHRASING TO SOME REAL PROBLEMS (WHICH HULK WILL EXPLAIN LATER IN THE ESSAY WHEN WE GET TO THE "REAL LIFE" STUFF). INSTEAD, HULK THINKS WHAT COMPELS YOU IS MUCH MORE FUNCTIONAL APPROACH.

ONE REASON THIS APPROACH WORKS IS BECAUSE IT NATURALLY IMBUES YOUR FILM WITH THE THEMATIC BACKBONE YOU NEED. AND THE OTHER REASONS IS BECAUSE, COME ON, YOU SHOULD FREAKING CARE ABOUT THE STORY YOU ARE TELLING. OTHERWISE, WHY DO IT? WHEN A WRITER AND FILMMAKER CARES, THEN IT JUST RADIATES OFF THE PAGE OR SCREEN. THE AUDIENCE REALLY CAN TELL. AND IF YOU DON'T CARE? THAT COMES ACROSS PLAIN AS DAY TOO. EVEN IF IT'S NOT THE ACTUAL THEMATIC MATTER YOU FIND ENGAGING, IT SHOULD BE SOMETHING ELSE ABOUT THE WORK. MOST OFTEN WRITERS AND FILMMAKERS CARE FOR GENRE, EFFECT, OR CRAFT. YOU TELLING A SCARY STORY? YOU SHOULD DELIGHT IN SCARING YOUR AUDIENCE. TREAT THE SCREEN THE SAME WAY YOU WOULD IF YOU WERE TELLING IT AT THE CAMPFIRE. ENGAGE THEM.

BUT REMEMBER, THIS LARGE SCALE APPROACH IS JUST ONE HALF OF THE DEAL. EVEN IF YOU HAVE A STRONG, INTERESTING OPINION ON A SUBJECT, THE IDEA STILL HAS TO BE EXPLORED THROUGH THE CONTEXT OF ORGANIC CHARACTERS. THE CHARACTERS CAN'T BE PROPS TO LARGER IDEAS BECAUSE THE STORY WILL THEN REEK OF BEING HOLLOW AND MANUFACTURED. WHICH MEANS YOU CAN'T JUST REVERSE ENGINEER SOME CHARACTERS THAT FIT YOUR IDEAL SITUATION AND HAVE THEM ACT OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY. IT HAS TO BE BALANCED.

SO LET'S GO BACK TO THE SAME QUESTION: WHAT COMPELS YOU?

THIS TIME LET'S ANSWER ON A MICRO-LEVEL: "MY FRIEND SO-AND-SO IS AMAZING, THEY WORK VOLUNTEER AT A HOSPITAL AND ...", OR "I READ THIS GREAT ARTICLE ABOUT SO AND SO." HECK, IT DOESN'T EVEN HAVE TO PEOPLE-CENTRIC. YOU CAN BE LIKE "I THOUGHT OF THIS GREAT SCENARIO WHERE...",  OR "THIS REALLY NEAT SCI-FI WORLD WHERE SO-AND-SO IS POSSIBLE." OR HECK, YOU CAN JUST HAVE THOUGHT OF A SINGLE LINE OR IMAGE WHICH YOU FIND COMPELLING.  THESE MICRO-LEVEL DETAILS ARE A MUCH MORE COMMON FORM OF INSPIRATION. THEY ARE SMALL IDEAS THAT EXCITE YOU TO LARGER POSSIBILITIES.

BUT THEY ARE NOT NARRATIVES.

YOU CANNOT SIMPLY SAY "I WANT TO WRITE ABOUT THIS TEXTURED, INTERESTING PERSON." AND IT WILL MAGICALLY PRODUCE A TEXTURED, INTERESTING STORY. SO OFTEN, A LOT OF RECENT MOVIES HAVE HAD TROUBLE WHEN THEY ASSUME TEXTURE AND CHARACTER DETAIL SOMEHOW IS THE SAME THING AS MOTIVE. THE WHOLE HATRED FOR "INDIE MOVIES" HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM BEING QUIRKY, OR MAUDLIN, OR SACCHARINE. IT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE OFTEN SO EMPTY. IT'S NOT THAT THEIR CHARACTERISTICS DON'T "FEEL REAL" IT'S THAT SO OFTEN THESE CHARACTERISTICS TRY TO HIDE A LACK OF NARRATIVE OR THEMATIC PURPOSE. IT IS CHARACTER-DETAIL APROPOS OF NOTHING. YOU HAVE TO GO FURTHER THAN THAT. WITH REAL LIFE STORIES SOMETIMES THE "FACTS" GET IN THE WAY OF GOOD STORIES. HULK WILL GET BALLS DEEP INTO WHY THAT IS LATER, BUT HULK JUST HAVE TO MAKE SURE WE UNDERSTAND THAT THE CONSTRUCTION OF NARRATIVE IS SOMETHING MORE SPECIFIC TO NARRATIVE ITSELF.

ULTIMATELY, A GOOD NARRATIVE IS BORN BY COMBINING THESE MACRO AND MICRO APPROACHES INTO ONE SINGULAR, COHERENT IDEA. YOUR CHARACTERS AND THE STORY THEY INHABIT SHOULD BE IN COMPLETE ALIGNMENT WITH THE INTENTION OF YOUR THEMES. WHICH MEANS YOUR NARRATIVE IS ESSENTIALLY "WHAT YOU ARE SAYING." SO WHEN YOU HAVE A GERM OF AN IDEA THAT COMPELS YOU, WHETHER IT'S A DETAIL, A PERSON, A CONCEPT, OR A THEME, YOU MUST THEN ZERO IN AND FIGURE OUT HOW THAT GERM THEN BECOMES A STORY.

FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN ALAN BALL CREATED SIX FEET UNDER, HE HAD A PASSING THOUGHT ABOUT A FAMILY WHO WORKED AS UNDERTAKERS AND HOW THAT MUST BE A WEIRD LIFE CONFRONTING MORTALITY EVERY DAY OF THEIR LIVES. THAT WAS THE GERM OF THE IDEA. IT WASN'T JUST THAT IT WAS"WEIRD" OR "DIFFERENT," BUT THAT THEY ENGAGED THIS TOPIC SO PLAINLY. THE BATTLES A CONCEPT THAT IS SO DAMN PERTINENT TO A CULTURE THAT LARGELY AVOIDS THE TOPIC ALTOGETHER. BUT THAT WAS JUST THE CONCEIT. HE FILLED IT OUT WITH RICH, TEXTURED CHARACTERS THAT ALSO COMPELLED HIM. PRIM MATRIARCHS, 30 YEAR OLD GRANOLA TRANSIENTS, CLOSETED ADULTS, AND DISAFFECTED TEENS. BUT AGAIN. THAT DOESN'T MAKE A STORY. HE THEN CAME UP WITH TWO DEVICES THAT PROPELLED EVERYTHING. FIRST, THE FATHER DYING SO THIS SHOW ABOUT CONFRONTING MORTALITY BECAME ALL THE MORE FOCUSED ON A PERSONAL LEVEL. THE SECOND, WAS THAT THAT EVERY SINGLE EPISODE WOULD OPEN WITH A CLIENT'S DEATH. AGAIN, REINFORCING THE THEME OF CONFRONTING MORTALITY IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY.

DO YOU SEE THE ROLE THE GERM PLAYS? YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT COMPELS YOU AND IN THIS CASE IT WAS THE IMAGE OF A FAMILY AND THE IDEA OF "CONFRONTING MORTALITY." HE USED THAT AS THE THROUGH LINE FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES, RIGHT UP UNTIL "THE END."

NOTICE HOW HULK BROUGHT UP A TV SHOW AS THE EXAMPLE? HULK DID THAT ON PURPOSE. NOT EVERY IDEA IS A GREAT FIT FOR THE MEDIUM OF SCREENWRITING. SOME MAKE SENSE FOR TV. SOME MAKE SENSE FOR A NOVEL. SOME MAKES SENSE FOR VIDEO GAMES. SOME MAKE SENSE FOR A SKETCH. HULK READS THINGS EVERY DAY THAT SHOULD REALLY BEST BE SUITED AS OTHER THINGS. BUT HOW TO KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR WHAT?

... OKAY IT'S ACTUALLY PRETTY DIFFICULT, BUT THE IDEA IS TO REALLY ZOOM IN ON WHAT MAKES THE STORY WORK FOR ITS OWN PURPOSES. HULK'S ADVICE IS TO NOT THINK OF IT AS A MOVIE. JUST THINK OF IT AS A STORY.  LITTLE, BIG, WHATEVER. ONCE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THE STORY IS ON ITS OWN MERITS, YOU CAN PLAY WITH IT TO FIGURE OUT HOW THAT STORY BEST WORKS AS A MOVIE, A TV SHOW, COMIC, WHATEVER YOU THINK BEST.

BUT NO MATTER WHAT, IT FIRST HAS TO COMPEL YOU.

PART THREE -  6 GENERAL STUFFS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFOREHAND

UGH. MORE DEFINITIONS AND TREADING WATER BEFORE THE ACTUAL ADVICE! COME ON HULK GET TO THE GOOD STUFF!

HULK SORRY, BUT THIS IMPORTANT.

1. GET YOUR LEARN ON!

YES, SCREENPLAYS ARE JUST STORIES.

BUT AS HULK MENTIONED BEFORE THERE IS A WAY A STORY MAKES FOR A GOOD MOVIE OR A WAY IT MAKES FOR A BETTER... SOMETHING ELSE. TO UNDERSTAND WHAT MAKES A GOOD MOVIE YOU REALLY JUST HAVE TO UNDERSTAND HOW MOVIES WORK... AND THAT'S REALLY A WHOLE LIFETIME OF COLUMNS. UNDERSTANDING FILM IS A PERCEPTIVE ART TAKES YEARS TO GET A GOOD GRASP, BUT THE GOOD NEWS THAT THIS INFORMATION AND KNOW-HOW IS SOMETHING ALREADY LOCKED INSIDE YOUR BODY. YOU KNOW MOVIES. YOU'VE BEEN WATCHING THEM YOUR WHOLE LIFE. SO YOU JUST NEED TO WATCH AS MANY AS POSSIBLE FROM HERE ON IN AND THEN IT IS JUST UP TO YOUR BRAIN TO BEST UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS YOUR BODY GOES THROUGH WHILE YOU'RE WATCHING THEM. YOU JUST HAVE TO THINK CRITICALLY WHILE YOU DO SO.

WHY IS THE PROCESS SO IMPORTANT?

BECAUSE IF YOU INTRINSICALLY UNDERSTAND MOVIES EVEN IF YOU'RE TOTALLY UNAWARE THEN THAT MEANS THE AUDIENCE INTRINSICALLY UNDERSTAND MOVIES TOO. WHICH MEANS YOU CAN'T JUST SLING CRAP UP THERE AND "EXPECT THE MORONS TO LOVE IT." BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THE GENERAL AUDIENCE KNOWS GOOD STUFF WHEN THEY SEE IT. MOVIES CAN WORK VISCERALLY FOR EVERYONE. THE WALKED OUT OF THE FIRST PIRATES, RISE OF THE PLANET APES, AND BOURNE SUPREMACY AND "GOT IT" SO TO SPEAK. THERE WILL ALWAYS ERRANT CASES OF SOMEONE ACTING OUTSIDE THE BAROMETER, BUT FOR THE MOST PART, WELL-TOLD TRADITIONAL NARRATIVES WILL ALWAYS WORK LIKE GANGBUSTERS. NOW YOU MAY POINT ON THE SUCCESS OF THE TRANSFORMERS SERIES AS EVIDENCE THAT SHITTY STUFF SUCCEEDS TOO, BUT THEY ARE A RARE AND SPECIAL CASE OF AN AUDIENCE KNOWING THE BRAINLESS FODDER THEY ARE ABOUT TO RECEIVE AND GOING FOR IT. PLUS HULK ARGUE THE TINY BIT OF EMOTIONAL CONNECTIVE TISSUE IN THE FIRST FILM (DON'T TORTURE BUMBLEBEE!) ACTUALLY EARNED THE SERIES A GREAT DEAL OF PUBLIC GOODWILL GOING FORWARD. DOUBLE-PLUS, YOU CANNOT CONFUSE MARKETING AND ECONOMICS WITH SOMETHING BEING "A GOOD STORY." JUST CAUSE IT GETS BUTTS IN SEATS, DOESN'T MAKE IT GOOD. HULK REALLY BELIEVES THAT PEOPLE KNOW GOOD TRADITIONAL MOVIES BY INSTINCT AND THAT IS BECAUSE  EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET IMPLICITLY UNDERSTANDS THE EFFECTS AND NEEDS OF NARRATIVE.

SO THE QUESTION YOU HAVE TO ASK WHEN EVALUATING A FILM IS SIMPLE: DID MOST PEOPLE WALK OUT OF THE FILM SAYING "IT WORKED."?

LET'S GO BACK TO THE [CONDENSED] MISSION STATEMENT: THIS COLUMN IS NOT ABOUT SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL, OR POP, OR HOW TO PITCH. THESE ARE ALL ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS, BUT HULK ARGUE IT IS THE KIND OF SUCCESS THAT DOESN'T LAST. KNOWING HOW TO WRITE, LASTS. SO THIS COLUMN IS ABOUT BECOMING A BETTER WRITER AND STORYTELLER. IT IS ABOUT WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT WORK.

BECAUSE AUDIENCES INSTINCTIVELY KNOW HOW THEY SHOULD WORK, EVEN IF THEY CANNOT ARTICULATE IT. THEY KNOW IF THEY FELT CONNECTED, OR INTERESTED, OR LAUGHED, OR SCREAMED. THEY KNOW IF THEY WERE COMPELLED. SO KNOWING HOW AN AUDIENCE WILL RESPOND TO WHAT IS PUT ON SCREEN IS EVERYTHING. YOU HAVE TO BE EFFECTIVE. HULK WILL DELVE INTO A WHOLE BUNCH OF TOOLS TO BE EFFECTIVE, BUT YOU JUST HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT YOU NEED TO WATCH A TON OF MOVIES. YOU NEED TO GET YOUR LEARN ON.

2. NO, SERIOUSLY. GET YOUR LEARN ON...

AS IN START BECOMING AN ARMCHAIR EXPERT IN STUFF. WHY? BECAUSE OTHERWISE YOU WON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO TALK ABOUT.

HULK SUSPECTS THAT SOME PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE HOW SMART MOST WRITERS AND FILMMAKERS REALLY ARE. THEY ARE VERY, VERY SMART. GO AHEAD. SIT DOWN FOR ANY CONVERSATION. YOUR MIND WILL BE BLOWN (AS LONG AS THEY'RE NOT A RATNER OR SOMETHING). THE FILMMAKER WILL NOT ONLY BE ABLE TO TALK AT LENGTH ABOUT THE THEMES OF THEIR OWN FILMS, OR THE ABSOLUTE INTENTION OF EACH SCENE, BUT THEY WILL SHOW THEY THEY ARE COMPLETE AWARE OF THEIR FILM'S RELATIVE SHORTCOMINGS AND CAN EVALUATE THE REASONS WHY THAT OCCURRED BETTER THAN ANYONE ON THE PLANET. BUT IT DOESN'T STOP THERE. THEY WILL BE ABLE TO TALK ABOUT THE ENTIRE LANDSCAPE OF FILM HISTORY. THEY WILL HAVE SEEN MOST EVERYTHING. THEY WILL COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND AUDIENCE PSYCHOLOGY HULK MENTIONED IN POINT #1.

BUT MORE THAN THAT, WRITERS AND FILMMAKERS ARE AT THEIR BEST WHEN THEY ARE INTERESTED IN THE WORLD OUTSIDE OF FILM. STANLEY KUBRICK WAS FAMOUSLY INTERESTED IN SO MANY FIELDS OF STUDY:  MECHANICS. ENGINEERING. HISTORY. LITERATURE. GREAT STORYTELLERS TEND TO BE MARKED BY AN INSATIABLE CURIOSITY ABOUT LIFE ITSELF. YES, STUDYING FILM AS A MEDIUM IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THE TOOLS, CADENCE, AND THE WRITING PROCESS, BUT IT'S A WORTHLESS PURSUIT UNTIL YOU CAN CONVEY SOMETHING ABOUT THE ACTUAL WORLD. SO LOOK TO YOUR LIFE. LOOK TO OTHER PEOPLE. TO POLITICS. ART. CULTURE. PSYCHOLOGY. SOCIOLOGY. YOU SHOULD HAVE SOMETHING INTERESTING TO SAY ABOUT THE WORLD AROUND YOU, BECAUSE THE WORLD AROUND YOU IS WHAT IS ACTUALLY COMPELLING TO AN AUDIENCE (PLAYING AROUND WITH FILM CONVENTIONS IS NEAT, BUT TO A SMALLER GROUP OF PEOPLE). THE WORLD OUTSIDE DON'T LIVE IN CINEMAS (LIKE WE DO). SO IF YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER OR FILMMAKER, PREPARE FOR THIS TO BE A PART OF THE WORLD. PREPARE TO BE AN EXPERT IN SOMETHING.

EMBRACE THE HIGH STANDARD!

NOTE: HULK NOT SAYING YOU CAN'T EVER GO META WITH YOUR WORK. JUST UNDERSTAND THAT THE META-NESS NEEDS TO HAVE A CONCURRENT FACE-VALUE NARRATIVE LEVEL IF YOU STILL WANT TO KEEP FOLKS INTERESTED. THAT'S ALL. WORK THE LAYERS!

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, THIS IS ALL GETTING A LITTLE DIDACTIC. WHAT MAKES YOU SUCH AN AUTHORITY MR. HULKY-PANTS?

3. EXPERIENCE + WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU.

OKAY... SO AT THIS POINT YOU MAY BE WONDERING WHY HULK FEELS LIKE HULK CAN EVEN TALK ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR SUBJECT. HULK DISCUSSED HULK'S HUMBLE FEELINGS ON THE NATURE OF ADVICE AND THE NEEDS TO SHARE IN THE INTRODUCTION, BUT WHAT IS IT ABOUT SCREENWRITING SPECIFICALLY THAT MAKES HULK WANT TO CONTRIBUTE?

IT IS SAFE TO SAY THAT HULK IS MORE FAMILIAR WITH SCREENWRITING THAN PROBABLY ANY OTHER ELEMENT OF FILMMAKING. HULK HAS NOT ONLY WRITTEN A DELUGE OF THEM, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY HULK HAS READS A METRIC FUCK TON OF THEM. NOT CASUALLY EITHER, BUT FOR, LIKE, PROFESSIONAL PURPOSES AND STUFF. MEANING HULK'S ABILITY TO LOOK AT A SCREENPLAY AND IDENTIFY WHY IT WORKS AND WHY IT DOESN'T IS A BIG PART OF WHAT HULK DO. AND AS SUCH, IT'S NOT THAT HULK WANT BE AN AUTHORITY, BUT A CHANCE TO OFFER WHAT HULK HAS KNOWN & EXPERIENCED. AND THAT MAY BE OF SOME USE.  AND IT MAY NOT. HULK JUST WANTS TO SHARE THE STRUGGLE JUST LIKE YOU. THAT'S MORE THE REASON THAN ANYTHING.

BUT SINCE THIS PARTICULAR ARENA OF FILMMAKING IS "WHAT HULK DO" YOU MAY NOTE A SLIGHT DIFFERENCE IN TONE TO THIS ARTICLE. HULK WILL BE A TAD LESS CAUTIOUS AND A TAD MORE DIRECT. AND IN FULL-DISCLOSURE , SOME OF THIS DIRECTNESS OF TONE HAS TO DO WITH SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE JADED... AT LEAST MORE THAN YOU WOULD EXPECT FROM HULK... AS HULK SAID THERE ARE THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN LOS ANGELES WHO HAVE CLAIMED TO HAVE "WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY" AND ARE NOW TRYING TO SELL IT. IN COMPLETE HONESTY, WHAT THEY HAVE WRITE IS MORE THAN LIKELY TOTAL CRAP. THEY MAY HAVE A GOOD IDEA. THEY MAY HAVE A GOOD SENSE OF MOVIES. THEY MAY HAVE THE RIGHT INTENTIONS. BUT THEY HAVE NOT EVEN PUT IN CLOSE TO 1/100TH THE WORK THAT SO MANY WORKING PROFESSIONALS IN THIS INDUSTRY ACTUALLY HAVE. AND SORRY, BUT HULK RESPECTS THOSE WORKING PROFESSIONALS TOO MUCH TO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THE STUNNING GAP BETWEEN THE QUALITY. AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HARD MOST OF THEIR PATHS WERE IN GETTING TO WHERE THEY GO. THEY WORK AT THE CRAFT OF WRITING THE SAME WAY ONE WORKS AT ANY DEMANDING JOB. AND THEY ARE REALLY GOOD AT IT.

SO IMAGINE IF YOU SUDDENLY HOPPED ON A MAJOR LEAGUE FIELD AND JUST WENT UP TO BAT. RIDICULOUS ANALOGY, HULK KNOW, BUT THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME IN LOS ANGELES AND NOBODY THINKS TWICE ABOUT IT. THERE IS THIS WEIRD ASSUMPTION THAT ANYONE CAN WRITE A SCREENPLAY IF THEY HAVE A NEAT ENOUGH IDEA. HULK KNOWS THIS IS A DEMOCRATIC MERITOCRACY, THAT'S ACTUALLY ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT THE INDUSTRY (ANYONE THE RIGHT CONNECTION CAN HAVE A SHOT AT BEING A SCREENWRITER), BUT HULK'S OBVIOUS PROBLEM IS WITH THE LACK OF AWARENESS. THE BLIND ASSUMPTION THAT SOMEBODIES LITERAL FIRST ATTEMPT TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY COULD SOMEHOW BE WORTHY IS DOWNRIGHT STRANGE (NOTE: DOESN'T FULLY APPLY TO WRITERS OF OTHER NARRATIVE FORMS, BUT STILL DOES MORE THAN YOU'D THINK). SO MANY PEOPLE JUST HAVE NO AWARENESS OF WHERE THEY STAND. HENCE: DELUSION. AND IT'S A KIND OF DELUSION THAT SUFFOCATES THE INDUSTRY AND MAKES IT HARDER FOR FOLKS WHO CAN ACTUALLY WRITE. IT CREATES A CULTURE WHERE IT'S MORE DIFFICULT TO HAVE CONFIDENCE TO "SELL THEMSELVES." THE DON'T WANT TO BE LIKE THE REST OF THE DELUSIONAL, PRESSURING JERKS.

SO HULK JUST WANT YOU TO REALIZE THAT KNOWING WHERE YOU STAND, AND HOW FAR YOU HAVE TO GO IS A CRITICAL ELEMENT TO UNDERSTANDING WHERE YOU STAND IN YOUR WRITING DEVELOPMENT. THIS ISN'T ACCUSATORY. HULK TOTALLY INCLUDES HULK-SELF IN THIS ONE TOO. REALLY, HULK KNOW THAT ENTIRE PARAGRAPH ABOVE REEK OF A KIND OF ELITISM. HULK TOTALLY, TOTALLY AWARE OF THAT. BUT THAT'S NOT HOW IT'S MEANT. THE STATEMENT IS MEANT TO SHOW YOU THAT YOU HAVE TO START REALLY WORKING FOR IT. YOU HAVE TO RESPECT THE CRAFT AND THE EFFORT THE SAME WAY THE PROFESSIONALS DO.

HULK REALLY, REALLY WANTS YOU TO BE A BETTER SCREENWRITER. YOU JUST HAVE TO TAKE IT REALLY, REALLY SERIOUSLY.

WHY IS THAT SO IMPORTANT? BECAUSE:

4. THE SCRIPT MATTERS

HOLLYWOOD HAS THE REPUTATION OF BEING RATHER UNKIND TO SCREENWRITERS. WHY HULK CAN COUNT ON HUNDREDS OF HANDS HOW MANY TIMES HULK HAS HEARD SOMEONE CALL A SCRIPT A "BLUEPRINT" AND THAT... GAH... LISTEN TO HULK VERY, VERY CAREFULLY ON THIS ONE...

THAT IS TOTAL BALLS.

98% OF GOOD MOVIES HAVE GOOD SCREENPLAYS. THAT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT. IF YOU EVER CALL A SCRIPT A BLUEPRINT CHANCES ARE YOU ARE MAKING, OR ARE GOING TO MAKE, BAD MOVIES. SORRY, BUT IT'S TRUE. ALMOST EVERY SINGLE BAD MOVIE CAN BE TRACED BACK TO A BAD SCRIPT. OR FUCK, MAYBE EVEN NO SCRIPT AT ALL. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY SUMMER TENT-POLES ARE GREEN-LIT AND GET INTO HEAVY PRE-PRODUCTION WITH AN INCOMPLETE TO NON-EXISTING SCRIPT? IT IS ALL BUILT ON THE BLIND DUMB-ASS ASSUMPTION THAT SCRIPTS AREN'T THAT IMPORTANT IF YOU HAVE THE BARE-BONES IN PLACE.

HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUBMIT THE IDEA THAT THIS IS THE SINGLE GREATEST FAULT OF MODERN FILMMAKING.

THE ASSUMPTION THAT A FILM'S STORY CAN BE SIMPLY "FIGURED OUT" IN PRE-PRODUCTION, PRODUCTION, OR EVEN THE EDITING ROOM IS A WHOLLY LAUGHABLE IDEA. EVEN IN PRE-PRODUCTION, YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU NEED IN ORDER TO HAVE IT IN PLACE. HULK MEAN, HOW CAN YOU REALLY DO THAT WITHOUT A FREAKING SCRIPT!?!?! DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES PRODUCTIONS GET LOCKED INTO A TERRIBLE SCENE, BECAUSE THEY ALREADY STARTED BUILDING SETS?!?! HULK HAS SEEN SO MUCH MONEY GET WASTED IN PRE-PRODUCTION AS A BUNCH OF RELATIVE NINCOMPOOPS RE-ARRANGE THE STORY ON THE FLY. THEY EVEN HIRE/FIRE WRITERS WITHOUT REALIZING THE CONSEQUENCE THIS HAS ON THEIR PRODUCTION.

AND WHEN YOU'RE ACTUALLY FILMING A MOVIE? YES, YOU CAN CHANGE A SCRIPT TO ENHANCE, REFINE, AND COMPLEMENT WHAT IS ACTUALLY BEING FILMED. BUT THIS IS DEEP-TISSUE STUFF THAT'S DECIDED FAR ALONG IN THE PROCESS. THIS IS WHEN EVERYTHING IS ALREADY SET IN PLACE. YOU'RE NOT REALLY RE-CONSTRUCTING, YOU'RE REFINING. WHILE YOU ARE IN PRODUCTION YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW WHAT YOU'RE WORKING ON FITS WITH THE CONTEXT, INTENTION, AND LOGIC OF THE REST OF THE STORY. THIS SHOULD BE OBVIOUS. IT'S HOW PEOPLE MADE MOVIES FOR NEARLY 80 YEARS.

BUT THEN THE CORPORATIONS MOVED IN AND EVERYTHING CHANGED. THEY APPROACHED THE STORY LIKE... HULK GUESS A CORPORATE BUSINESS WOULD/ AND THEY SADLY DISCOVERED THAT THROUGH MARKETING, TONE-APPEAL, STAR-POWER, AND PROPERTY RECOGNITION THEY COULD STILL GET BUTTS IN SEATS OPENING WEEKEND. WHICH IS SUPER-GREAT FOR THEM BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T UNDERSTAND HOW SCRIPTS AND STORIES WORKED IN THE FIRST PLACE... TO BE FAIR THERE ARE A GOOD DEAL OF EXECUTIVES WHO ARE STUNNINGLY BRILLIANT. AND WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT, BUT THE THINGS THEY PRODUCE ON TEND TO BE RATHER GOOD TOO!

BUT THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT SCRIPTS REALLY USE TO MATTER TO THE INDUSTRY. THE BUSINESS OF MOVIES WORKED ON A LONG-PLAY SELL FOR WEEKS AND WEEKS. WORD OF MOUTH WAS WHAT GOT BUTTS IN SEATS OVER TIME, AND IT DIDN'T HAVE MUCH TO DO WITH OPENING WEEKEND BOX OFFICE. SO WRITING A GOOD STORY, WELL-TOLD WAS YOUR FREAKING BUSINESS MODEL. NOW? IT'S A NEAT LITTLE BONUS.

WHICH IS ANOTHER IDEA THAT HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST IS SHORT-SIGHTED BALLS.

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ARGUMENT: IF THE MOST VALUABLE THING A MOVIE STUDIO CAN GET THEIR HANDS ON IS "A FRANCHISE" THEN HOW DO YOU GET PEOPLE INTERESTED IN COMING BACK TIME AND TIME AGAIN? YOU MAKE A GOOD FIRST MOVIE. AND THAT MEANS YOU NEED, LIKE, A GOOD STORY, RIGHT? NOT TO GET TOO SMASHY, BUT SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, HOW IS THIS NOT FUCKING OBVIOUS? THERE IS THE COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT THE BOX OFFICE OF SEQUELS  HAS LITTLE TO DO WITH THE ACTUAL MOVIE, BUT IS INSTEAD ARE A REACTION TO THE LAST ONE. HOW OFTEN DO WE HEAR " _____ WAS SO GOOD THAT I CAN'T WAIT FOR ____2!" ISN'T THAT HOW YOU BUILD THE FRANCHISE MODEL? HULK UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYONE TRYING TO MAKE A GOOD FIRST MOVIE AND ALL THAT, BUT BEING SURE YOU'VE LOCKED ONTO A GREAT SCRIPT IS THE FIRST PART OF THAT. IF A FRANCHISE IS EVERYTHING TO CORPORATE FOLKS, THEN WHY INSIST THE STORY DOESN'T MATTER? A GOOD STORY WELL-TOLD, IS SECRETLY STILL THE BUSINESS MODEL, WE'RE JUST NOT SEEING IT.

INSTEAD, ONE OF THE GUYS RUNNING DISNEY SAYS "ONLY SET-PIECES MATTER" AND THEN CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHY NOBODY FUCKING LIKED TRON. THIS IS THE VERY PINNACLE OF "NOT GETTING IT."

THE SCRIPT MATTERS.

THIS EVEN TRUE FOR ALL THE POPULAR "IMPROV COMEDIES" YOU SEE IN TODAY'S LANDSCAPE. GUESS WHAT? ALL THOSE HEAVILY IMPROVISED ADAM MCKAY MOVIES? HAVE YOU EVER READ THE SCRIPTS? THEY'RE PRETTY FREAKING GOOD. AND THEY'RE A LOT CLOSER TO THE FINAL PRODUCT THAN YOU MAY REALIZE. THE CHARACTER ARCS, THE RELATIVE POINTS, THE TONE. IT'S ALL THERE, AND IT'S ALL OFTEN GREAT. THE IMPROV'S FUNCTION IS ONLY TO FIND THE BEST POSSIBLE JOKES, WHICH THEY ONLY MANAGE TO ACCOMPLISH BY GETTING SOME OF THE BEST COMEDIC PERFORMING MINDS IN A ROOM TOGETHER. IT'S A DIALOGUE RE-WRITE ALONE. NOT AN IMPROVISED NARRATIVE.

SO TO ALL YOU BUDDING IMPROV-BASED WRITERS, YOU NEED TO HAVE TO WRITE A SCRIPT YOU'RE PROUD OF FIRST. IMPROV IS A GREAT PERFORMANCE TOOL, BUT IS NOT AN APPROACH TO STORY. YOU NEED THE FOCUS THAT NARRATIVE BRINGS. SO HAVE THE SCRIPT BE THE SOUL OF YOUR PROJECT AND SOMETHING YOU'D BE PROUD OF, AND THEN TRY TO USE IMPROV TO SIMPLY TRY AND IMPROVE THE SURFACE.

YOU KNOW WHO AGREES? TINA FEY. SHE WAS WHOLLY BORN FROM THE 2ND CITY IMPROV MODEL, YET SHE BASES ALL HER WRITING ON THE WORK OF GOLDEN AGE TV AND THE SIMPSONS.

THE SCRIPT MATTERS.

5. WHY YOU STILL NEED TO BE ABLE TO TELL AN ORIGINAL STORY

WITH ALL THIS "FRANCHISE" TALK, YOU MAY HAVE ALSO NOTICED THAT ORIGINAL SCRIPTS AND STORIES AREN'T BEING MADE BY HOLLYWOOD ALL THAT MUCH ANYMORE. DREW MCWEENEY WROTE A GREAT PIECE ABOUT HOW WE ARE IN THE AGE OF FAN-FIC. HE DELVES INTO HOW WE NO LONGER HAVE TO LOOK AT OUR INFLUENCES AND APPROPRIATE THEM INTO OUR OWN ORIGINAL STORY, BUT ACTUALLY GET TO WORK WITH THOSE VERY PROPERTIES THAT INSPIRED US. AS SUCH, IT SEEMS LIKE EVERY SINGLE THING WE PRODUCE IS EITHER A SEQUEL, A REMAKE, OR BASED ON ANOTHER THING.

THE MAIN REASON THIS HAPPENS IS MORE INDUSTRY B.S. THEY DO IT FOR VALID MARKETING REASONS (MEANING IT SPIKES THE AWARENESS NUMBERS BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH "THE THING" ITSELF). THERE'S ALSO ANOTHER MUCH MORE INSIDIOUS REASON FOR THIS. THE SYSTEM CREATES A CONDITION WHERE EXECUTIVES NEED TO PICK EXISTING PROPERTIES SO THAT IF THEY FAIL, THEY CAN JUSTIFY THEIR DECISION BY SAYING "I PICKED SOMETHING POPULAR I SWEAR! ECONOMICALLY IT MADE SENSE!" THE HUMAN ANGLE ON THAT IS UNDERSTANDABLE. NO ONE WANTS TO BE FIRED FOR CRAP REASONS. BUT THE COMPLETE SYSTEM-WIDE MISUNDERSTANDING OF DECIDING WHAT KINDS OF STORYTELLING TO EMBRACE, IS NOT. STORYTELLING NEEDS ROOM TO EMBRACE NARRATIVE. IT CANNOT BE A CHECKLIST OF MARKETING POINTS. IT CANNOT BE APPROACHED FROM THAT LOGIC BECAUSE YOU WILL LIKELY EXTINGUISH THE VERY THING YOU NEED TO SUCCEED. BUT ALAS, WORKING WITH EXISTING PROPERTIES IS THE NEW REALITY OF CORPORATE FILMMAKING CULTURE.

AND HERE'S THE THING ABOUT THAT... IT'S STILL OKAY.

BECAUSE IF YOU WANT TO BE A WORKING SCREENWRITER, THEN THAT COOL ORIGINAL SCRIPT YOU WROTE IS NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT TRYING TO GET IT MADE (THOUGH THAT WOULD OBVIOUSLY BE AWESOME). IT'S ABOUT PROVING THAT YOU ARE A GOOD WRITER. AND IN ORDER TO PROVE THAT YOU ARE A GOOD WRITER YOU NEED TO PROVE THAT YOU CAN WRITE AN ORIGINAL, COMPELLING STORY. THAT'S WHY IT MATTERS.

BECAUSE EVEN THESE FILMS ARE BASED ON OTHER PROPERTIES AND CHARACTERS, THE QUESTION THEN BECOMES CAN YOU MAKE IT INTERESTING? CAN YOU MAKE IT COMPELLING TO AN AUDIENCE? CAN YOU MAKE THE WORLD COME TO LIFE IN A FULLY REALIZED WAY? YOU JUST DON'T APPROPRIATE STORY BY WAY OF POINT-BY-POINT ADAPTATION. YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND EXACTLY HOW AN ORIGINAL STORY WORKS AND HOW TO INTEGRATE FILM STRUCTURE INTO YOUR WORK. AND YOU LEARN HOW TO DO THAT BY LEARNING TO WRITE AN ORIGINAL STORY.

SO IT GOES BACK TO THE INSPIRATION ANGLE ALL THE SAME: WHAT ABOUT THE PROPERTY COMPELS YOU? WHAT IS SO INTERESTING ABOUT IT? AND FROM THERE YOU TELL THE STORY YOU FIND COMPELLING WITH THE DETAILS AND ICONOGRAPHY OF THE KNOWN PROPERTY. YOU MAKE IT YOUR OWN.

AFTER ALL, NOLAN DIDN'T MAKE BATMAN FOR ADULTS BECAUSE IT WAS "GRITTY." HE MADE IT FOR ADULTS BY MAKING A BATMAN MOVIE THAT WAS ABOUT INTERESTING ADULT-MINDED CONCEPTS. CITY POLITICS. SYMBOLS. ANARCHISM. HE TOOK THE BATMAN ICONOGRAPHY AND ENGAGED WITH IDEAS THAT INTERESTED HIM. AND BY DOING THAT HE TRANSCENDED THE PROPERTY THROUGH THE POWER AND KNOW-HOW OF ORIGINAL STORYTELLING.

6. BUT STILL REMEMBER, THIS IS NOT ABOUT "GETTING THINGS MADE"

HULK WISH HULK COULD PROMISE YOU ALL THE FRUITS OF SUCCESS, BUT THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS THAT GO INTO GETTING SOMETHING MADE THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH WRITING. IT'S A SEPARATE TOPIC REALLY. SO THIS COLUMN IS ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL. FROM THE VERY START, HULK SAID THAT THIS COLUMN WAS ABOUT WRITING ITSELF AND TRYING BE A BETTER WRITER.

SO ALL HULK CAN PROMISE YOU THIS: IF YOU UNDERSTAND STORIES AND SCREENPLAYS, AND IF YOU WANT TO PURSUE SCREENWRITING OR SOME KIND OF CAREER IN FILM, TELEVISION, NOVELIZATION, OR MEDIA, THEN NO MATTER WHAT PATH YOU END UP FOLLOWING THE INFORMATION CONTAIN WITHIN THIS PIECE WILL STILL BE OF VALUE TO YOU

... OR AT LEAST IT CAN'T HURT.

SO THOSE ARE 6 THINGS HULK THINK YOU NEEDED TO KNOW BEFOREHAND.

NOW HOW THE HELL DO YOU WRITE THE DAMN THING?

PART FOUR - - HOW TO TELL A STORY - CONCEPTUALLY

PLEASE ENJOY THE FOLLOWING GUIDELINES/RULES/WHATEVERS FOR HOW TO WRITE A STORY/SCREENPLAY.

THESE GUIDELINES WILL START WITH SOME NECESSARY STORY CONCEPTS THAT WILL HELP YOUR APPROACH, THEN FOLLOW WITH STRUCTURAL ADVICE, AND THEN SCREENPLAY FORMAT ADVICE, AND FINALLY THE KEY TO PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.

SO FIRST UP:

7. EMPATHY IS YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND.

WHEN CRAFTING A STORY AND CHARACTERS, THERE IS SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT TO KEEP IN THE BACK OF ONE'S MIND: THERE IS NO SINGLE MORE-POWERFUL FORCE ON THIS PLANET THAN THAT OF EMPATHY... HULK KNOW YOU'RE COUNTER ALREADY. OH YEAH, HULK? WELL WHAT ABOUT GALACTUS!?!

PSSSSH. HOW DOES GALACTUS GET DEFEATED? ALICIA MASTERS APPEALS TO THE SILVER SURFER'S SENSE OF EMPATHY, WHICH CAUSES HIM TO JOIN THE FANTASTIC FOUR AND DEFEAT HIS FORMER MASTER!

EMPATHY, BITCHES. EMPATHY.

BUT WAY MORE SERIOUSLY, EMPATHY IS THE MOST SINGLE POWERFUL TOOL AT A WRITER'S DISPOSAL. EVEN THIS SILLY GALACTUS EXAMPLE, WHICH CAN BE CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MORE SIMPLE LESSONS FROM ONE OF THE GREAT COMIC BOOK SAGAS, WORKS PRETTY DAMN WELL. AND THAT IS BECAUSE THE FAR-REACHING VALUE OF HUMAN EMPATHY IS WHAT HULK CONSIDERS TO BE NOT JUST A GREAT UNIVERSAL TRUTH, BUT THE SINGLE UNIVERSAL TRUTH OF HUMANITY'S SURVIVAL... WHOA.

PLEASE EXCUSE THE NAIVE-SOUNDING LOFTINESS OF THE FOLLOWING, BUT IN AN EFFORT TO BE ATTUNED AND GROUNDED HUMAN BEINGS, WE SOMETIMES MISS THE SAME LOFTY TRUTHS THAT STARE US RIGHT IN THE FACE. HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT IT IS AN OBVIOUS, YET CRITICAL TRUTH THAT EMPATHY IS WHAT BINDS HUMAN BEINGS TOGETHER. IT'S WHAT ALLOWS US TO LOVE OUR PARTNERS, FAMILIES, AND FRIENDS. UNLESS WE'RE DIPPING INTO SOME SCHADENFREUDE, IT IS EVEN WHAT GIVES US OUR CAPACITY FOR JOY AND LAUGHTER. MEANING EMPATHY ISN'T JUST "A NICE THING WE HAVE IN LIFE," BUT A WHOLLY NECESSARY FUNCTION. TO PARAPHRASE DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, IT'S WHY WE DON'T SPEND EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY CLUBBING EACH OTHER THE HEAD AND STEALING EACH OTHER'S GROCERIES. EVEN IN A WORLD CONTAINING CRIME, DEPRAVITY, AND WAR, IT IS EMPATHY THAT ALLOWS US TO SOMETIMES REFRAIN FROM THOSE VERY THINGS. WHICH MEANS IT'S WHY WE SURVIVE AS SPECIES.

THOSE ARE THE DAMN STAKES AND IT'S STUNNING HOW OFTEN THIS REALIZATION PASSES US BY... AND IT'S OFTEN WHY WE MISS THE FACT IT BELONGS IN (ALMOST) EVERY KIND OF STORY.

WHEN IT COMES TO OUR MOVIES, EMPATHY IS ALSO THE VERY THING INVOLVES AN AUDIENCE AND KEEPS THEIR ATTENTION.  IT HOOKS INTO THEIR BONES ON A VISCERAL LEVEL. IT GIVES THE AUDIENCE ROOTING INTEREST AND PERSPECTIVE. IT IS THE REASON A MOVIE IS EXPERIENCED INSTEAD OF WATCHED. MOVIES ARE UNIQUE IN THAT THEY GET TO HAVE A PERSON ACTUALLY PARTICIPATE IN THE OLD CLICHE OF "WALKING A MILE IN ANOTHER MAN'S SHOES." WE TAKE IT FOR GRANTED, BUT ISN'T THAT KIND OF AMAZING? A GREAT FILMMAKER USES EMPATHY AS THEIR FUEL. THEY USE IT COMPEL THE AUDIENCE. AND HULK TRULY LOVES THAT THE THING THAT ENABLES HUMANITY TO FUNCTION IS THE SAME EXACT THING THAT ENABLES MOVIES TO WORK! NOTHING COULD BE MORE APPROPRIATE FOR HULK'S FAVORITE MEDIUM. BUT NOW THAT WE KNOW EMPATHY IS IMPORTANT, THE QUESTION THEN BECOMES HOW THE HECK DO WE USE IT?

THERE IS THE OLD ADAGE THAT YOU CAN MAKE AN AUDIENCE CARE JUST BY THREATENING TO "KILL THE KITTEN."

THIS IS JUST A SAYING OF COURSE. YOU DON'T ACTUALLY NEED TO THREATEN TO KILL THE KITTEN (UNLESS YOU WROTE THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO OR SOMETHING). WHAT THIS ANALOGY REALLY MEANS IS YOU TAKE SOME OBVIOUS THING TO EMPATHIZE WITH (CUTE KITTEN!) AND YOU PUT IT IN SOME KIND HORRIBLE DANGER AND INSTANTLY THE AUDIENCE IS AUTOMATICALLY INVOLVED IN YOUR MOVIE. BUT IT ALSO CAN BE ANY OF THESE RATHER HUMAN, OFT-EXPERIENCED SORT OF THINGS. LIKE SPILLING COFFEE ON YOURSELF. OR HAVING PARENTS THAT "JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!" OR THE FOIL OF THAT AND HAVING BRATTY KIDS. BASICALLY YOU WANT TO HAVE THIS VERY RELATE-ABLE TEXTURE OR CONTEXT WHICH LETS THE AUDIENCE SAY "I TOTALLY RECOGNIZE AND SYMPATHIZE WITH THAT INCLINATION!" (NOTICE HULK SAID INCLINATION AND NOT "SITUATION" BECAUSE PEOPLE MAKE THAT MISTAKE. IT'S THE EMOTIONS WE IDENTIFY WITH, NOT THE PREDICAMENT.)

THERE IS OF COURSE A WAY THAT THESE DEVICES CAN BE TOTALLY MANIPULATIVE. SOME PEOPLE HATE TO HAVE NARRATIVES BOX THEM IN WITH HOW TO FEEL AND THINK. RATHER THAN SPEND A BIG CHUNK OF THIS ON HOW TO BALANCE THE GOALS OF EMPATHY WITHOUT BEING MANIPULATIVE, IT IS FAR EASIER TO LINK TO DEVIN'S EXCELLENT REVIEW OF WARHORSE, WHICH COVERS THE SUBJECT QUITE WELL. THE MAIN POINT IS TO SIMPLY FIND THE RIGHT BALANCE OF PRESENTATION AND BE SURE THAT THERE ARE REAL CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS BEHIND THE DEVICES, MEANING THE DEVICES/SITUATION SHOULD DIRECTLY IMPACT OR COMMENT ON THE CHARACTER AND STORY AND NOT JUST BE THERE TO CHEAPLY GET "THE AUDIENCE ON THEIR SIDE."

SADLY, THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE FILMMAKING INDUSTRY WHO CONFUSE "EMPATHY" WITH "LIKABILITY." THE MISTAKE IS UNDERSTANDABLE, BUT PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THE TWO ARE NOT THE SAME THING IN THE SLIGHTEST. EMPATHY IS ABOUT RELATION AND UNDERSTANDING. THEY THINK LIKABILITY AMOUNTS TO "NOT HAVING YOUR CHARACTERS DO ANYTHING BAD." THIS ASSUMPTION IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE BECAUSE WITHOUT HAVING A CHARACTER DO "THE WRONG / FALLIBLE THING" YOU WILL END UP CREATING SOME REAL SHIT DRAMA IF YOU ASK HULK. IN FACT, THIS GRAVE MISUNDERSTANDING ABOUT EMPATHY / LIKABILITY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE LEGIONS OF DOORMAT MAIN CHARACTERS THAT MOVIE AUDIENCES ARE TREATED TO TIME AND TIME AGAIN.

FALLIBILITY IS EMPATHETIC! HULK KNOW HULK ALWAYS BRING UP INDIANA JONES AND WE DON'T LOVE HIM BECAUSE HE'S PERFECT, WE LOVE HIM BECAUSE HE'S CONSTANTLY FUCKING UP (AND BARELY GETTING OUT THE RESULTS). HE'S AFRAID OF THINGS, HE HAS FALSE CONFIDENCE, AND SHOWS FEAR. HE'S A PERFECT HUMAN ACTION HERO. HULK SAY IT NOW AND SAY IT FOREVER, LOOK TO INDY FOR INSPIRATION!

THERE IS OF COURSE A RATHER MODERN TENDENCY TO GO THE OTHER WAY WITH EMPATHY AND TEST THE AUDIENCE BY SEEING HOW MUCH OF A DICK A CHARACTER CAN BE ON SCREEN. THESE SORT OF JERK-ASS ANTIHEROES LITTER THE SCREEN NOWADAYS, AND FOR COMEDY / DARK COMEDY PURPOSES THEY CAN WORK PRETTY WELL. BUT THERE'S A WHOLE ART TO IT. THE EFFECT IS ACTUALLY MEANT TO DISTANCE THE AUDIENCE IN ORDER TO ILLUMINATE SOME KIND OF LARGER POINT OR TRUTH ABOUT HUMAN BEHAVIOR. THIS POINT CAN BE BLACK-AS-NIGHT FUNNY OR DARKLY POETIC (COEN BROTHERS) OR IT CAN BE GRATING AS ALL HELL (THE SOMETIMES UNSUCCESSFUL WORK OF NEIL LABUTE). BUT THE KEY IS JUST TO HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF THAT APPROACH. THERE IS A REAL CONTRARIAN TENDENCY THESE DAYS TO GO THIS JERK-ASS DIRECTION JUST BECAUSE IT SEEMS DIFFERENT. THE INCLINATION IS FINE, BUT BE SURE THERE IS A POINT TO IT. DON'T JUST MAKE THE JERK-ASS MAIN CHARACTER A SHORTCUT TO BEING FUNNY / EDGY WITHOUT ANY SORT OF REAL THEMATIC EXPLORATION.

YOU WILL NOW NOTICE, THAT WHETHER YOU GO THE EMPATHETIC OR DISTANCING ROUTE, A GOOD DEAL OF WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO TOMAKE IT COMPELLING IS EXPLORING IS THE HUMAN CONDITION.

ASK YOURSELF BOLD QUESTIONS: WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES THIS CHARACTER GOOD? WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES THEM TROUBLED?

WAIT, BETTER YET, LET'S GET SPECIFIC! ASK YOURSELF, WHY DO WE LIKE TONY SOPRANO? WHY DO WE NOT LIKE TONY SOPRANO? WHAT DETAILS ABOUT THIS CHARACTER'S LIFE MAKE HIM SO INTERESTING?

HULK HAS SAT HERE AND WAXED PHILOSOPHICAL ABOUT EMPATHY FOR QUITE SOME TIME, BUT THAT'S BECAUSE THERE IS NO BASIC, TRUTHFUL SHORTCUT HULK CAN SAY WHICH MAKES YOU UNDERSTAND ITS NUANCES. YOU CAN THREATEN TO KILL THE KITTEN AND BE QUITE SUCCESSFUL AT IT, OR YOU BITE YOUR THUMB AT THE VERY CONCEPT OF EMPATHY ALL TOGETHER. THERE IS A WIDE SPECTRUM OF APPROACH AND ALL HULK WANTS YOU TO DO IS HAVE A REAL CONCRETE REASON FOR GOING IN EITHER DIRECTION.

IT CAN'T JUST BE "BECAUSE IT IS EASY."

AND WHATEVER YOU DO...

8. BEWARE THE LURE OF INDULGENCE. ONE OF THE BIG MISTAKES IN ALL OF WRITING IS TO GRACIOUSLY GIVE INTO THE MORE INDULGENT ASPECTS OF WRITING AND STORYTELLING. SINCE EMPATHY IS WHAT CONNECTS US, SOMETIMES THE EMPATHETIC EFFECT IS SO EASY TO ACHIEVE THAT IT IS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR LETTING US "ESCAPE."

NOW, THERE IS OF COURSE A VALUE TO ESCAPISM. IT'S A HUGE ASPECT OF ENTERTAINMENT. BUT ONE MUST ALWAYS BE CAREFUL WITH THE MASTURBATORY ELEMENT OF THAT ESCAPISM. YOU CAN GET AN AUDIENCE MEMBER TO THINK  "I'M A HERO SAVING THE WORLD! I GET THE GIRL! BLAH BLAH" BUT THIS SORT OF INDULGENCE CAN LEAD TO SOME REALLY UNSAVORY STUFF TOO. THE KIND OF STUFF THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LARGER TRUTHS, OR UNDERSTANDING, OR THE HUMAN CONDITION, OR WHY WE TELL STORIES. IT'S ABOUT MASSAGING THE ID. AND AT THAT POINT, YOUR STORYTELLING IS BASICALLY THE FACILITATION OF MENTAL MASTURBATION.

IT MAY MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY, AND THAT'S ALL WELL AND GOOD... BUT IT MAY NOT BE DOING THEM A FAVOR. AND BY EXTENSION IT MIGHT NOT BE DOING HUMANITY A FAVOR.

THIS IS NOT TO OVERLY-CRITICIZE THE DESIRE TO ENTERTAIN. HULK JUST THINK THAT WHEN ENGAGING THE INDULGENT ASPECTS OF STORYTELLING, IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING WITH THE AUDIENCE, AND TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY OF YOUR MESSAGE. HULK THINKS YOU SHOULD TRY TO TIE A FEW OF THE INDULGENT CONCEPTS INTO SOME GROUNDED AND RESPONSIBLE AIMS TOO. OTHERWISE YOU END UP WRITING LIFESTYLE-PORN LIKE ENTOURAGE (WHICH IS NOT ONLY A LAZY APPROACH TO INDULGENCE, IT IS SUCH A LAZY SHOW IT CAN ONLY RESOLVE PLOTS WITH DEUS EX MACHINA... IF YOU LIKE ENTOURAGE HULK SORRY TO BE CRAPPING ON IT. REALLY HULK IS. HULK ADMIT IT CAN BE REALLY FUNNY AND HAS A FEW GOOD PERFORMANCES AND STUFF, BUT HULK NOT LIKE ITS IDENTITY AND PURPOSE. IT IS PERHAPS THE MOST INDULGENT, YET WELL-MADE THING HULK HAS EVER SEEN).

SO YES, EVEN INDULGENCE MUST BE APPROPRIATED INTO PURPOSE. HULK NOT IMPLYING THAT ALL MOVIES HAVE TO HAVE SOME HALLMARK MESSAGE TIED INTO IT, BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE SUPER LAME. IN FACT, SOME OF HULK'S FAVORITE FILMS AN JUST GO BALLS OUT AND MAKE THE MOST OBVIOUSLY INDULGENT, WHOLLY UN-REAL NARRATIVES (THINK OF SOMETHING LIKE CRANK). THE WAY THESE HYPER-STORIES WORK IS THAT THE ABSURDITY AND UN-REALITY OF THE PRESENTATION ACTUALLY CREATES A SENSE OF DISTANCE. AND WITH THAT DISTANCE, THE AUDIENCE CAN IMPLICITLY UNDERSTAND THAT THE AUTHORS ARE CRITICIZING OR LAUGHING AT. IT ENABLES SATIRE AND IRONY. YOU HAVE TO THINK OF THE PRESENTATION LIKE TAKING ON THE VIEW OF THE OMNISCIENT OBSERVER. EVEN IF SALINGER TECHNICALLY WROTE IN HOLDEN CAUFIELD'S VOICE, WE IMPLICITLY UNDERSTAND WHAT SALINGER THINKS ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT HOLDEN IS SAYING IN DOING. IT'S JUST A LENS.

ULTIMATELY, AWARENESS OF WHAT EMPATHY IS AND HOW IT WORKS, WILL BE THE KEY TO MAKING ALL OF YOUR CREATIVE DECISIONS. IT IS THE FUNDAMENTAL BUILDING BLOCK OF STORYTELLING, AND WILL INFORM EVERYTHING ABOUT HOW YOU WANT TO TELL YOUR STORY.

9. THE CONSISTENCY OF CHARACTER MOTIVE

BUT WHAT MAKES A STORY CHOICE A GOOD ONE OR A BAD ONE?

THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF INCLINATIONS, IDEAS, AND DIRECTIONS THAT ONE CAN GO WITH IN WRITING A STORY, BUT THE BEST WAY TO DECIDE IF THOSE STORY CHOICES ARE WORTH IT IS TO ASK YOURSELF ONE SIMPLE QUESTION: "WOULD THE CHARACTER ACTUALLY DO THAT?"

THIS QUESTION MATTERS SO DAMN MUCH BECAUSE WHEN A CHARACTER ON SCREEN DOES SOMETHING THEY TOTALLY WOULDN'T DO, IT BECOMES THE VERY THING THAT MOST ALIENATES THE AUDIENCE. THEY MAKE A SUBCONSCIOUS DECISION TO SAY "I'M NO LONGER GOING WITH YOU BUDDY, EMPATHIZING THIS WAY, NOW I'M JUST WATCHING YOU DO THE WRONG THING." AGAIN, HULK IS NOT TALKING ABOUT LITERAL RIGHT OR WRONG HERE OR WHAT YOU WOULD DO. HULK IS TALKING ABOUT WHAT THE CHARACTER WOULD AND WOULDN'T DO.

THINK ABOUT IT LIKE THIS: WE WOULD "FOLLOW" TONY SOPRANO AS HE KILLED ONE OF HIS RIVAL MOBSTERS IN A GRUESOME FASHION. IT MAY NOT BE SOMETHING WE WOULD DO OURSELVES, BUT WE UNDERSTAND THIS IS SOMETHING THAT FITS WITHIN TONY'S PSYCHOLOGY AND WE ACCEPT IT. BUT THEN WE WOULD DEFINITELY NOT BE HAPPY WITH TONY IF HE KILLED SOME RANDOM TEENAGE COED IN SOME GRUESOME FASHION. WHILE BOTH KILLINGS ARE MORALLY "WRONG" TO US, THE AUDIENCE MEMBER, ONLY ONE OF THEM IS INCONSISTENT IN TERMS OF CHARACTER. AND THAT WOULD MAKE US ANGRY WITH THE STORYTELLING. NOW. OF COURSE DAVID CHASE WAS A MASTER OF PLAYING WITH THIS MORAL LINE AND HAD ALL THESE AMAZING WAYS OF BRINGING TONY TO THE EDGE OF ACCEPTANCE, BUT HE ALWAYS  WILLING TO DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES. HE ALWAYS LOOKED FOR MEANING TO ERUPT FROM TONY'S CHOICES. HULK FEEL THAT CHASE WAS ONE OF THE MOST THEMATICALLY RESPONSIBLE STORYTELLERS TO GRACE OUR TELEVISIONS. THAT RESPONSIBILITY NEVER HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH SIMPLE MORALIZING, BUT THE FACT THAT EVERYTHING ABOUT HIS CHARACTERS HAD WEIGHT AND MEANING. IT WAS JUST INCREDIBLE.

BUT IT'S FUNNY HOW THIS QUESTION OF "INCONSISTENCY" APPLIES TO REAL LIFE AS WELL. WHEN TIGER WOODS, WHO WE THOUGHT OF AS THE PARAGON OF HARD-WORK, SUCCESS, AND NICE-GUY-NESS, WAS CAUGHT CHEATING WE WERE COLLECTIVELY APPALLED. WE SAW HIM AS A SHAM AND IT MADE US FURIOUS. BUT WHEN CHARLES BARKLEY WAS CAUGHT DOING THE SAME THING (AND DRUNK DRIVING TO BOOT!) WE JUST SHOOK IT OFF AND SAID "THAT'S CHARLES BEING CHARLES!" WE LIKE PEOPLE TO BE WHO WE THINK THEY ARE.  CHARACTER CONSISTENCY MATTERS SO MUCH TO OUR CULTURE, AND THUS IT HAS TO MATTER TO OUR STORYTELLING TOO.

WHEN A CHARACTER DOES SOMETHING IN YOUR STORY, IT HAS TO MAKE SENSE. SO WHEN THEY ARE SUDDENLY PUSHING THEIR BOUNDARIES (AND ALL MAIN CHARACTERS PUSH THEIR BOUNDARIES) IT HAS TO FEEL EARNED. SURE WE WANT THESE CHARACTERS TO EXPAND, CHANGE, AND HAVE ARCS, BUT THE STORY NEEDS TO GIVE THEM WHOLLY VALID REASONS TO DO SO. THE KIND OF PLOT-BASED REASONS THAT PERHAPS AWAKE SOMETHING THAT ALWAYS IN THE CHARACTER'S SOUL. AND MAYBE THEY JUST NEEDED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO LET IT OUT. AND IF YOU DON'T GIVE THE CHARACTERS GOOD REASONS TO CHANGE, THEN YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY MAKING YOUR CHARACTERS BE INSINCERE. WE THINK OF THEM LIKE WE THINK OF TIGER WOODS. WE LOOK AT THE STORYTELLER LIKE THEY JUST WANTED THE CHARACTER TO FIT SOME POINT OR THE STORY THEY WANTED TO TELL... AND AUDIENCE CAN SMELL THAT INSINCERITY FROM A MILE AWAY.

HULK KNOW THAT HULK MAKES THIS "SINCERE CHARACTER" THING SOUND LIKE IT'S EASY THING TO DO, BUT THIS IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE MORE DIFFICULT THINGS FOR A WRITER TO SEE IN THEIR OWN WORK.

THAT IS BECAUSE, AS THE CREATOR, IT IS OFTEN HARD TO SEPARATE ONESELF FROM THE POWER AND CONTROL OVER WHAT YOU ARE WRITING. "OF COURSE THE CHARACTER WOULD DO THAT! THAT'S WHAT I'M MAKING THEM DO!" BUT TO THE AUDIENCE, WHO ONLY GETS TO LEARN ABOUT THE CHARACTER THROUGH THE VERY DIFFERENT LENS OF EXPERIENCE, IT DOESN'T WORK LIKE THAT. THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT IS INSIDE YOUR HEAD. THEY ONLY SEE WHAT COMES OUT FROM THE STORY. AS SUCH, THEY ARE ACTUALLY MUCH BETTER AT READING "WHO THE CHARACTERS ARE" AS WELL AS THEIR CAPACITIES FOR GOOD AND BAD.

AS SUCH, WHEN WRITING IT IS IMPORTANT TO GROUND YOURSELF IN THESE SAME TANGIBLE CAPACITIES. REMIND YOURSELF OF THEM CONSTANTLY. WHAT WOULD THEY REALLY DO? WHAT ARE THEIR MOTIVATIONS? WHAT DO THEY WANT? WHAT DO THEY NEED? ARE THEY SMART ENOUGH TO DO THAT? ARE THEY KIND ENOUGH TO DO THAT? ARE THEY MEAN ENOUGH TO DO THAT? YOU MAY LIKE THE EFFECT OF A DECISION, BUT IT HAS TO BE SINCERE.

HULK KNOW WE ALL WANT TO EXPLORE STORYTELLING IN AS ADVENTUROUS A WAY AS POSSIBLE, BUT YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT MAKES SENSE FOR YOUR CHARACTER. GO WHERE THEY HAVE TO GO, NOT WHERE THE STORY WANTS THEM TO GO.

NOW...  HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE FOR A CHARACTER?

10. CHARACTER TREES!

SWEET! ACTUAL METHODS OF IMPLEMENTATION! IT ONLY TOOK HULK 9000 WORDS TO GET THERE! HURRAY!

SO CHARACTER TREES CAN BE AN INVALUABLE TOOL FOR HELPING YOU CREATE FULLY-REALIZED CHARACTERS. ESPECIALLY IN TELEVISION AND NOVELS WHERE THE DEPTHS AND HISTORIES OF CHARACTER CAN BE EXPLORED MORE RICHLY IN THE LONGER FORMATS. BUT EVEN FOR TRUNCATED SCREENPLAYS, THE VALUE OF CHARACTER DETAIL CAN DO SO MUCH.

THAT BEING SAID, ALSO BEWARE THE DANGERS OF CHARACTER TREES BECAUSE THEY CAN ALSO LEAD TO A LOT OF EXTRANEOUS BULLSHIT. MEANING WRITERS WHO COMPLETE CHARACTER TREES OFTEN FEEL LIKE THEY NEED TO CRAM IN ALL THE DETAILS TO MAKE THE CHARACTER "WORK." THIS NOT THE CASE. IT MAKES THE ASSUMPTION THAT IS THIS SAID DETAIL THAT DOES THE HEAVY LIFTING. THAT IS NOT TRUE. INSTEAD IT IS THE NUANCE OF HOW CHARACTERS BEHAVE. SO DON'T GO OVERBOARD. THAT BEING SAID, THE GREAT THING ABOUT CHARACTER TREES IS THE STUFF YOU COME UP WITH WILL ALWAYS BE THERE IF YOU NEED IT.

HULK WAS ONCE INTRODUCED TO A SMART WAY OF KEEPING TRACK OF CHARACTER TREES BY USING BODY PARTS. YOU START AT THE BOTTOM AND GO UP, THUS "BUILDING A COMPLETE PERSON."

TO WIT:

A) FEET - WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE? WHAT ARE THE FACTS OF THEIR FAMILY HISTORY? WHERE HAVE THEY LIVED? THE FEET ARE ALL ARE FACTUAL DETAILS TO BE DRAWN ON.

B) GROIN - WHAT DO THE WANT? HOW DOES THEIR SEXUALITY MANIFEST ITSELF? WHAT ARE THE OTHER BASE WANTS? GREED? APPROVAL? ESTEEM? THE GROIN ADDRESSES ALL THE THINGS ABOUT THE PERSON THAT ARE BORN OUT OF IMPULSE.

C) HEART -  WHAT DO THEY NEED? WHAT THINGS DO THEY SECRETLY NEED IN THEIR LIFE THAT WILL MAKE THEM A BETTER PERSON? NOTICE IT IS RATHER DIFFERENT FROM WHAT A CHARACTER "WANTS" (WHICH MAY BE MISGUIDED). A CHARACTER'S HEART IS LIKELY THE KEY TO THE ENDING CATHARSIS.

D) THROAT - HOW DOES THE PERSON SOUND? NOT JUST THE LITERAL VOICE, BUT HOW DOES THE PERSON PROJECT THEMSELVES? HOW DO THEY COME OFF TO PEOPLE? WHAT IS THEIR "SURFACE VIBE" AS THEY SAY? A PERSON'S THROAT IS BASICALLY THEIR POSTURE AND ATTEMPT AT PRESENTATION.

E) LEFT CHEEK - WHAT IS THEIR INTELLIGENCE? HOW DOES IT MANIFEST ITSELF? HOW DO THEY PROBLEM SOLVE? BASICALLY, THE LEFT CHEEK EXPOSES THE "LEFT BRAINED" ABILITIES.

F) RIGHT CHEEK - WHAT IS THEIR IDEALISTIC / ARTISTIC CAPACITY? WHAT IS THEIR CONSCIENCE AND MORALITY? JUST LIKE BEFORE,  THE RIGHT CHEEK EXPOSES "RIGHT BRAINED" ABILITIES.

G) CROWN - THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN LOOK AT AT ALL THE BODY PARTS LISTED AND PIECE TOGETHER AN ACTUAL PSYCHOLOGY. YOU NOW HAVE ALL THE TOOLS AT YOUR DISPOSAL TO CREATE A REAL, COMPLEX PERSON WITH A CONSCIOUS MIND AND A SUBCONSCIOUS ID. YOU CAN START TO PIECE TOGETHER WHAT REALLY MATTERS WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT THE CROWN. WHAT ARE THEIR DEFINING MEMORIES? WHAT IS THEIR PATHOLOGY? THE CROWN ESSENTIALLY ALLOWS YOU TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: WHO IS THIS CHARACTER?

SO THAT'S A CHARACTER TREE.

YOU START FACTUAL, THEN GET EMOTIONAL, THEN IDEOLOGICAL, AND THEN BUILD INTO AN ACTUAL CHARACTER PSYCHOLOGY. IT IS A GREAT WAY TO BUILD FULLY TEXTURED PEOPLE WITH WHOLE LIVES ONTO THEMSELVES. BETTER YET, CHARACTER TREES WORK SO WELL IN MAKING ALL YOUR CHARACTERS TRULY DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER.

CHARACTER TREES ARE NOT THE BE ALL END ALL, BUT A GREAT TECHNIQUE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND CONTINUAL RESOURCE IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

11. DON'T BASE YOUR CHARACTERS ON ONE PERSON, COMBINE THEM!

LET'S FACE IT., OUR FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES ARE HUGE INFLUENCE ON OUR THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES. THERE'S NO REAL WAY NOT TO INCORPORATE THEM INTO OUR WRITING IN SOME FORM OR OTHER. BUT YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL OF WHEN THE WRITER IS SO CLEARLY BASING THE CHARACTER ON SOMEONE THEY KNOW. HULK SEES THIS ALL THE TIME IN SCRIPTS. THE REASON IT SUCKS IT COMES WITH THIS NATURAL EXPECTATION THAT THE CHARACTER'S "REALITY" WILL DO ALL THE HEAVY LIFTING.

KNOW THIS: JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE REAL, DOESN'T MAKE THEM FEEL REAL.

AN AUDIENCE CANNOT SOMEHOW SENSE WHAT YOU IMPLICITLY KNOW ABOUT THIS REAL PERSON. THEY CAN ONLY SENSE THE INFORMATION AND CHARACTERIZATION THAT IS GIVEN. IF YOU'VE EVER BEEN IN OR TAUGHT UNDERGRAD CREATIVE WRITING STUDENTS, YOU WILL ABSOLUTELY ENCOUNTER THE SAME PROBLEM EVEN EVERY SINGLE SEMESTER:

HULK: "LISTEN JIMMY, HULK NOT SURE THE CHARACTER CHOICE THERE WOULD-"

JIMMY: "But this is a real person!"

... IT DOESN'T MATTER. WHAT MATTERS IS WHETHER OR NOT IT MAKES SENSE FOR THE CHARACTER PRESENTED. SO WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU'RE SO BLINDLY STICKING TO REAL LIFE? IF YOU RECOGNIZE A TRUTH IN THIS REAL-LIFE PERSON THAT YOU WANT TO EXPLORE? HOW TO APPROXIMATE THE INFLUENCE OF REAL PEOPLE INTO YOUR SCRIPT IN A MORE ORGANIC FASHION?

HULK HAS A SURE FIRE TRICK TO MAKING YOUR CHARACTERS MORE INTERESTING AND FREEING THEM UP TO THE REALITIES OF WRITING FICTION: COMBINE THEM.

YOU HAVE THAT ONE FRIEND WHO IS REALLY INTERESTING? AND THAT OTHER FRIEND WHO IS REALLY INTERESTING? IF YOU TRY TO WRITE THEM INDIVIDUALLY THEY ALWAYS HAVE A TENDENCY TO COME OFF ALL WOODEN AND LACKING NUANCE. BUT IF YOU COMBINE THE TWO OF THEM? AND YOU CREATE A SHARED WEALTH OF HISTORY AND PSYCHOLOGY TO DRAW ON? YOU'D BE SHOCKED HOW SUDDENLY THE CHARACTER IS BRIMMING WITH DEPTH AND POSSIBILITIES.

A LONG TIME AGO, HULK WAS ONCE WORKING ON A SCRIPT IN WHICH TWO OF THE SIDE-CHARACTERS HULK KIND OF BASED OFF "REAL LIFE" WERE COMING OFF FLAT AND ONE-DIMENSIONAL. THE FIRST WAS GREGARIOUS, FUNNY KID WHO LOVED PARTYING AND WAS WASTING AWAY HIS PARENT'S COLLEGE MONEY. THE OTHER WAS INDIAN STUDENT WITH AN INTERESTING FAMILY STORY AND TRYING TO APPROXIMATE SOME KIND FUN EXPERIENCE IN COLLEGE. (NOTE: THIS MOVIE WAS NOT VAN WILDER). THEN HULK GOT THAT GREAT PIECE OF ADVICE: COMBINE THEM.

WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT, BUT SUDDENLY THE CHARACTER WAS LEAPING OFF THE PAGE. HIS "INDIAN-NESS" NO LONGER DEFINED HIM, AND VICE-VERSA, THE PARTY-GUY SUDDENLY FELT SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING AND ATYPICAL. IT REMOVED THE STEREOTYPE OF BOTH CHARACTERS. AND THE GREGARIOUS PARTY-GOING BEHAVIOR BECAME AN INTERESTING WAY HIM TO MANIFEST HIS ASSIMILATION INTO AMERICAN SOCIAL CULTURE. IT WAS FASCINATING OVER-COMPENSATION. IT ALSO MADE THE PROBLEMS WITH HIS TRADITIONAL INDIAN PARENTS FEEL MUCH MORE TEXTURED INSTEAD OF OBLIGATORY. COMBINING THEM COMPLETELY REVOLUTIONIZED THIS CHARACTER'S STORY.

SO HULK STARTED TO DO THIS WITH PRETTY MUCH EVERY SINGLE "REAL LIFE" INSPIRATION.

YOU FORCE THEM TO BE FILTERED THROUGH A PRISM OF OTHER CHARACTERISTICS AND SUDDENLY IT REMOVES THE SINGULARITY. NOW THIS DEVICE IS NOT SOME ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL THING YOU CAN DO WITH ANY TWO CHARACTERS, BUT IT BECOMES SO MUCH FUN TRYING TO FIND THE NEAT COMBINATIONS OF PEOPLE  THAT ACTUALLY FIT TOGETHER. BETTER YET, IT CREATES NEW MEANING TO ALL THOSE DETAILS.

WE LIKE TO THINK WE SEE THE PEOPLE IN OUR LIVES AS COMPLEX, BUT BELIEVE IT OR NOT WE OFTEN JUST REDUCE THEM TO THEIR OWN KIND OF STEREOTYPES: "OH THAT'S JUST SO AND SO!" SO WHAT HULK LOVES ABOUT THIS METHOD IS THAT IT FORCES YOU TO REMOVE THE SINGULAR WAY IN WHICH YOU THINK ABOUT THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU. IT BREEDS 3D CHARACTERIZATION.

AND IT'S NOT JUST TRUE OF CHARACTER EITHER....

12. HOW TO FILTER "YOUR REAL LIFE" INTO A STORY

INSPIRATION JUST DOESN'T COME FROM CHARACTERS, IT COMES FROM OUR OWN LIVES, EXPERIENCES, AND SO MANY HILARIOUS STORIES. BUT AGAIN...

JUST BECAUSE IT HAPPENED, DOESN'T MAKE IT FEEL REAL.

ALL THE SAME LESSONS APPLY. TAKE THE INSPIRATIONS AND EVENTS AND FILTER THEM INTO REAL STORYTELLING MODELS AND BEATS THAT MAKE SENSE (WE'LL EXPLORE THIS LATER IN THE STRUCTURE SECTION).  DON'T JUST BE LAZY AND ASSUME THE READER KNOWS THE EVENT IS EQUALLY "TRUE."

IN FACT, IT'S USUALLY THE OPPOSITE. REAL LIFE CAN HAVE THIS STRANGE WAY OF FEELING "UNREAL." NON-FICTION STORIES ARE USUALLY FILLED WITH THE GRANDEST ELEMENTS AND EXTREMES OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR. THESE HAVE A WAY OBSCURING THE THEMATIC POINTS YOU MAY WANT TO MAKE AND FAILING TO RESONATE WITH THE AUDIENCE. IT'S COMPLETELY COUNTER-INTUITIVE, BUT DRAWING ON REAL LIFE REALLY DOESN'T MAKE YOUR WORK RING TRUE. SO OFTEN IT'S SUITED FOR NON-FICTION WHERE WE HAVE TO BELIEVE IT.

AND FICTION IS BUILT FOR WHAT FEELS TRUE.

SO HULK WILL NOW TURN TO ANOTHER OLD ADAGE. REALLY, HULK URGE YOU TO REMEMBER WHAT HULK ABOUT TO SAY, EVEN IF YOU GLAZE THROUGH EVERY SINGLE THING IN THIS ARTICLE (WHICH TENDS TO BE PRETTY COMPLEX) JUST TAKE AWAY ONE SIMPLE THING..

 DON'T WRITE THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE WITH THE LINES YOU WISH YOU SAID...

NOT ONLY DOES IT REEK OF AMATEUR HOUR, IT'S JUST PURE MASTURBATION. AS P.T. ANDERSON ONCE SAID "YOU'RE WORKING OUT YOUR PSYCHOSIS AT EVERYONE ELSE'S $8.50" (THAT SHOULD CLEARLY BE UPDATED TO 15 BUCKS). BUT THE PROBLEM IS IT'S CATHARTIC STORYTELLING ONLY BUILT ONLY FOR YOURSELF. WHICH IS NOT TO SAY YOU CAN'T MAKE WORK, BUT JUST SO OFTEN IT DOESN'T TRANSLATE. TRUST HULK ON THIS ONE. IT WILL NOT SPEAK TO NO HIGHER TRUTH. EVEN THE MOST LAUDED MASTURBATORY WORKS, CALL DIRECT ATTENTION TO THE CALLOUSNESS. LIKE WITH THE ENTIRE WORK OF WOODY ALLEN, HE WEAVES THE PROBLEMS AND HANG UPS OF HIS OWN MASTURBATORY WRITING DIRECTLY INTO THE NARRATIVE. HECK, HE OUTRIGHT EXPLAINS HOW INSIGNIFICANT IT IS AND HOW IT ONLY HELPS THE ARTIST (THIS IS THE ENTIRE THEME OF DECONSTRUCTING HARRY).

REALITY DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MAKE FOR FICTION. AND IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING, YES,  KAUFMAN / JONZE'S "ADAPTATION" IS 100% ABOUT THIS ENTIRE CONCEPT. IT'S ALL ABOUT HOW ONE CANNOT SIMPLY RELY ON THE FACETS OF TRUTH AND MUST SEARCH FOR BEAUTY AND TRUTH AND THEMES, AND MUST ULTIMATELY EMBRACE STORYTELLING CONVENTIONS TO MAKE THOSE IDEAS RESONATE (EVEN IF ONE DOES SO CHEAPLY). AND THAT FILM EXPLAINS IT BETTER THAN HULK EVER COULD

HULK MEAN, OF COURSE IT CAN... IT'S A NARRATIVE.

13. THE BIOPIC / REALITY COMPLICATION

IF WHAT HULK JUST SAID IS TRUE FOR YOUR STORIES, THEN IT GOES DOUBLE FOR BIOPICS.

SO HULK HAS A LOT OF RESERVATIONS WITH THE BIOPIC AS A FILM FORM... MOSTLY BECAUSE THERE IS A REALLY HIGH DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY. WHY SO DIFFICULT? BECAUSE RECOUNTING A LIFE STORY TENDS TO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW NARRATIVES WORK. PEOPLE DO THEIR BEST TO TRY AND MAKE IT A STORY,BUT IT DOESN'T OFTEN WORK. MOST OF THE TIME, IT'S JUST FEELS LIKE STUFF HAPPENING. THE WRITERS WILL RECOUNT ALL THE "GREATEST HITS" IN A PERSON'S LIFE. AND OFTEN THE ATTEMPTS TO CRAM CLEAR NARRATIVE DEVICES AND THEMES INTO STORY FEEL COMPLETELY DISINGENUOUS, SHOEHORNED, AND INCONSISTENT WITH THE TONE OF THE FILM

SO AS A FILMMAKER, YOU HAVE TWO REAL OPTIONS.

THE FIRST IS TO HEAVILY LAYER ON THE CONVENTIONS OF NARRATIVE OVER THE STORY, SO THAT THE TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING ELEMENTS DO NOT FEEL HALF-ASSED FEEL. SO THEY DO NOT FELL INCONSISTENT WITH THE OVERALL TONE OF THE PIECE. YOU ALSO HAVE TO BE SUPER CONFIDENT THAT THOSE NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS ACTUALLY FIT THE TRUTH OF THE PERSON TOO (OTHERWISE YOU MIGHT JUST BE MAKING PROPAGANDA). THE BEST EXAMPLE OF HEAVY NARRATIVE LAYERING DONE RIGHT IS SPIKE LEE'S INCREDIBLE MALCOLM X. THE STORIES IN THE FILM ALL HAVE VERY SPECIFIC NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS. HE EXPRESSES MALCOLM'S LIFE THROUGH TRIED AND TRUE STORY TROPES. HE APPROACHED HIS LIFE EVENTS LIKE LITTLE MINI-MOVIES, ALL MAKING UP A MUCH LARGER STORY. LIKE FIRST THERE WAS HIS HUSTLING DAYS. THEN HIS JAIL DAYS. THEN HIS PERIOD OF LEARNING (EDUCATION MONTAGE!). THEN HIS RISING UP INTO POWER DAYS. AND ULTIMATELY, HIS MEDITATIVE FINAL DAYS. THERE'S WAY MORE SECTIONS THAN THIS TOO, BUT EACH OF THEM FEELS LIKE ITS OWN SPECIFIC MOVIE. THERE'S SO MUCH PROPULSION AND ECONOMY TO EACH MINI-STORY. LEE FULLY EMBRACED THE PRINCIPALS OF NARRATIVE AT EVERY TURN SO THAT THE SUPPOSEDLY-RESTRICTING "FACTS" BECAME INCREDIBLY COMPELLING. HE DOESN'T CHANGE THE FACTS. HE AMPLIFIES THE FACTS. AND IN DOING SO HE CREATES A BIOPIC THAT ISN'T JUST TRUE, IT FEELS TRUE.

THE SECOND OPTION IS TO DISMISS THE CONCEPT OF NARRATIVE ALL TOGETHER AND COMMIT SOLELY TO THE CONCEPT OF ACCURACY. THIS MEANS YOU TELL THE STORY THROUGH THE EVOLUTION OF RELEVANT DETAILS. THIS WORKS LESS WELL WITH A PERSON'S LIFE, AND MUCH BETTER WITH A SPECIFIC EVENT OR TIME-FRAME. HULK CALLS THIS THE JOURNO-CINEMATIC ROUTE. YOU BE LIKE ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN. YOU BE LIKE ZODIAC. EVEN WITH MADE-UP STORIES THAT ARE MEANT TO CAPTURE "THE NUANCE OF REALITY" YOU BE LIKE THE FRENCH CONNECTION. YOU BE LIKE CONTAGION. IN ALL THESE FILMS YOU ESCHEW THE PRINCIPALS OF NARRATIVE AND CHARACTER ARCS TO TELL THE STORY OF "AN EVENT" THROUGH THE FIXATION OF DETAIL. THE ACTUAL HUMAN CHARACTERS COME IN AND OUT, AND SURE THEY SHOULD BE ENTERTAINING AND FULLY-TEXTURED, BUT YOU REALLY JUST NEED ONE OF THEM TO DRIVE THE NARRATIVE PROPULSION, USUALLY THROUGH THEIR FIXATION ON THE EVENT ITSELF.

THE FIRST TIME HULK REALIZED THAT IT MADE SO MUCH SENSE. THEIR DRIVE HELP'S FUEL THE FILM'S DRIVE. IN ALL THESE "REAL EVENT" FILMS HULK LIST ABOVE, WHETHER FICTION OR NON-FICTION, THEY ARE FILLED WITH CHARACTERS THAT PUSH THROUGH DISCOVERING THE NARRATIVE ITSELF. TO UNLOCK NIXON'S WATERGATE. TO FIND THE ZODIAC KILLER. TO FIND CHARNIER. TO UNDERSTAND AND CURE THE DISEASE. THEIR UNBENDING FIXATION IS THERE TO 100% SERVE THE PROPULSION OF THE NARRATIVE. SO WHERE IS THE ARC? WHERE IS THE CHARACTER CHANGE WE TRULY NEED IN MOVIES?

THE EVENT BECOMES THE CHARACTER.

THIS ABSOLUTELY BLEW HULK'S MIND WHEN HULK FIRST HEARD THIS IDEA. IT SEEMS TO FLY IN THE FACE OF THE CHARACTER-CENTRIC STUFF HULK SAID EARLIER. THIS DETAIL IS ACTUALLY REALLY IMPORTANT. EVEN THOUGH THESE FILMS ARE SOME OF HULK'S FAVORITES (AND MAYBE YOURS AS WELL) THERE IS A WAY LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE TRADITIONAL AUDIENCE CAN'T RELATE TO THEM. THERE IS NO CENTRAL CHARACTER JOURNEY. IT IS HARDER FOR THEM TO EMPATHIZE. YES, THEY MIGHT BE MISSING OUT, BUT THE FILMMAKER JUST HAS TO RECONCILE THE FACT THAT KIND OF STORY IS NOT FOR EVERYONE.

BUT, BUT HULK... THAT'S CAN'T BE IT, RIGHT? JUST TWO OPTIONS!??! WITH NOTHING IN THE MIDDLE!?! THERE'S GOTTA BE A WAY HULK, THERE'S GOTTA BE!

FINE... THERE'S ONE OPTION. ONE OPTION TO PERFECTLY CAPTURE THE SANCTITY OF REALISTIC DETAIL AND COMBINE IT WITH THE ETHOS OF CHARACTER-DRIVEN STORY. THE OPTION IS SO RARE, THAT HULK HAS ONLY REALLY SEEN IT HAPPEN ONCE IN TV AND FILM (NOVELS ARE MUCH BETTER AT IT).

THAT OPTION IS THE WIRE.

PEOPLE OFTEN MISTAKE THE WIRE FOR ONLY HAVING THIS JOURNO-CINEMATIC ROUTE AND THAT'S NOT ACCURATE. YES, THE SHOW WAS WRITTEN BY FORMER JOURNALISTS, WHO SO DREW ON THEIR REAL LIVES AND EXPERIENCES, AND IN SUCH A RESPONSIBLE WAY THAT IT MAY HAVE JUST SEEMED LIKE THAT WAS THE CASE. EVERYONE WAS LIKE "THE WIRE IS TOTALLY, LIKE, REAL MAN." ... BUT THAT'S ONLY HALF THE STORY. BECAUSE THE SHOW ALSO STICKS BEAUTIFULLY TO ELEMENTS OF NARRATIVE, PARTICULARLY GREEK DRAMA STRUCTURES. THEY WERE JUST SO DAMN GOOD AT GROUNDING THOSE OBVIOUS NARRATIVES IN A KIND OF MUTED-UN-CINEMATIC TEXTURE. IT RESISTED ALL FORMS OF STYLIZATION (THERE'S A GREAT ANECDOTE DAVID SIMON TALKS ABOUT WHERE THEY DON'T PAN DOWN TO SHOW AN IMPORTANT DETAIL BECAUSE "THE CAMERA WOULDN'T KNOW TO DO THAT." IT WAS AN EVEN-KEELED UNIVERSE). EVEN WITH ALL THE SHOW'S FIXATION ON DETAIL, THEY STILL USED PERFECT STORY ECONOMY. THEY ONLY USED THE LEVEL OF DETAIL THEY NEEDED AND THE REST IS TRADITIONAL CHARACTER ARC AND CATHARSIS. AND IN TERMS OF THEME IT MAY BE THE SINGLE MOST SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS, THEMATICALLY-LOADED TELEVISION SHOW THAT HAS EVER EXISTED.

HYPERBOLE MUCH, HULK?

WHATEVER. IT'S THE WIRE. AND IF YOU'RE GOING TO TRY TO REPLICATE IT... HULK MEAN... WE MAY NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE AGAIN. BUT EVEN THEN, PERHAPS THERE ARE SOME LESSONS TO TAKE AWAY FROM IT.

LIKE THIS ONE:

14. RESEARCH!

HULK IS SAVING A LOT OF THIS FOR AN UPCOMING COLUMN, BUT IT FAIR TO SAY A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE A PREOCCUPATION WITH "IN-MOVIE" LOGIC.

ONLINE CULTURE IN PARTICULAR SEEMS FIXATED ON NOTICING PLOT-HOLES AND INCONSISTENCIES ALL THE TIME. OFTEN WE DERIDE THESE MOVIES FOR NOT "THINKING IT THROUGH' AND BEING "BAD" BECAUSE OF IT. FIRST OFF, THESE SORTS OF COMPLAINTS ARE MADE BY PEOPLE WHO WOULD HAVE EXTREME DIFFICULTY WRITING A STORY WITHOUT PLOT-HOLES THEMSELVES, BUT THAT WOULD BE SORT OF FLIPPANT OF HULK AND NOT IMPORTANT BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT THE ONES TELLING THE STORY. HULK'S PROBLEM IS THAT THEY JUST MIGHT BE MISSING THE POINT.

HULK THINKS  THAT CHARACTER CONSISTENCY (MENTIONED ABOVE) AND THEMATIC CONSISTENCY ARE FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAN IN-MOVIE LOGIC. MOST OF US TEND TO FORGIVE MOVIES WITH PLOT HOLES AS LONG AS THE REASONS FOR SKIPPING THEM ARE PRETTY DAMN GOOD. ALL OF THE JOKER'S PLANS IN THE DARK KNIGHT DO NOT MAKE A LICK OF SENSE. NONE. BUT IT DIDN'T MATTER BECAUSE THE FILM WAS SO PROPULSIVE AND WELL-CONSTRUCTED THAT WE GOT SWEPT UP IN THE STORY (THE FILM IS A GREAT GAME OF CAT AND MOUSE). BUT IT REALLY DIDN'T MATTER BECAUSE NOLAN USED ALL THAT STORYTELLING IN SERVICE OF INTERESTING IDEAS ABOUT ANARCHISM, MORALITY, SOCIOLOGY, AND CHARACTERIZATION.

SO YES, HULK AGREE, IT DIDN'T MAKE A LICK OF LOGICAL SENSE, BUT IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER. THERE'S A REASON EVERYONE WALKED OUT AND THOUGHT "MASTERPIECE!" AND DIDN'T NOTICE THE PLOT-HOLES UNTIL THEY WATCHED IT A FEW MORE TIMES.

BUT EVEN THOUGH HULK THINK CHARACTER AND THEMATIC CONSISTENCY MATTERS WAY MORE THAN IN-MOVIE LOGIC, IT CLEARLY DOESN'T MEAN THAT WE SHOULDN'T BOTHER PUTTING EFFORT. THAT WOULD JUST BE LAZY. AND LOT OF WRITERS IN THIS INDUSTRY ARE GUILTY OF BEING LAZY. HOLLYWOOD MOVIES ARE FILLED WITH ALL SORTS OF NONSENSE, PRODUCING WORK THAT MAKES IT SEEM LIKE THE WRITERS HAVE NEVER USED A COMPUTER AND DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT THE TERM "HACKING" ACTUALLY MEANS. EVEN WHEN YOU GO HIGHER-BROW THAN THAT, THE SCIENCE OF LOST WAS OFTEN LAUDED, BUT IT WAS ACTUALLY PRETTY MUCH GIBBERISH. IF YOU HAVE ANY NON-ARMCHAIR, SERIOUSLY-HARDCORE SCIENCE FRIENDS THEN IT WAS REALLY, REALLY HARD FOR THEM TO WATCH THE SHOW. MOSTLY, BECAUSE THEY WOULD REFERENCE THESE COOL ADVANCED CONCEPTS AND THEN NOT ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ENTAILED. BUT THESE ARE SORT OF SPECIAL CASES.

AS LONG AS WE ARE TRYING TO WRITE GOOD SCRIPTS, WE SHOULD ALSO TRY TO BE ACCURATE. THE NARRATIVE HAS TO BE SOUND FIRST AND FOREMOST, BUT TRUE RESEARCH CAN GO ON TO INFORM SO MANY GREAT IDEAS AND REALLY FLESH OUT YOUR STORY. YOU JUST HAVE TO PUT THE WORK IN. AND BETTER YET, HULK THINK THAT AUDIENCES SUBCONSCIOUSLY RESPOND WHEN CHARACTERS REALLY KNOW WHAT TO CALL THINGS. THE SPECIFIC DETAILS GIVE THE AIR OF VERACITY. AND SOMETIMES GREAT TRUTHS ARE ARRIVED AT WHEN YOU WORK BACKWARD FROM THAT VERACITY.

GOING BACK TO DAVID SIMON, GENERATION KILL IS COMPELLING BECAUSE ALL THEY TRIED TO DO WITH THE NARRATIVE WAS CREATE THE MOST ACCURATE DEPICTION OF LIFE AS A SOLDIER IN IRAQ. AND THEY DID SO IN WAY THAT WAS ONLY MEANT TO MAKE THOSE SOLDIERS HAPPY. BUT BY DOING PLEASING THOSE SOLDIERS, THEY CREATED A KIND OF DETAIL-ORIENTED TRUTH THAT HELPED STRIKE A CHORD WITH THOSE OF US LOOKING IN ON THE SITUATION.

SIMPLY PUT: AUDIENCE LIKE TO WATCH SMART PEOPLE BE PROFESSIONAL. IT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MOST OF THE GOOD COP, LAWYER, DOCTOR SHOWS WE SEE ON TV, EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THEM HAVE TAKEN TO LYING RIGHT THROUGH THEIR FREAKING TEETH. AND HULK THINKS THAT THIS DISHONEST APPROACH TO PORTRAYING REAL-WORLD PROFESSIONALISM HAS REALLY BAD SOCIETAL CONSEQUENCES.

LOOK AT CSI. THE "SCIENCE" MAY BE SOMEWHAT SOUND (IF THAT) AND FEATURES REAL TECHNIQUES, BUT THE SHOW IS THE MOST DISHONEST LOOK IMAGINABLE ABOUT HOW THOSE SCIENCES ARE ACTUALLY USED IN THE FIELD. IT IS UTTERLY DISHONEST TO HOW THOSE PEOPLE REALLY DO THEIR JOBS. IT IS UTTERLY DISHONEST ABOUT THE SUCCESS RATE OF THE TECHNIQUES AND THE KINDS OF RESOURCES POLICE ACTUALLY HAVE. AND AS SUCH IT CREATES A SERIOUSLY DAMAGING PORTRAIT OF HOW SOCIETY WORKS. DON'T BELIEVE HULK? A LOT OF JURIES HAVE STOPPED TAKEN JURORS IF THEY ARE CSI FANS... THE SHOW LIES THAT BADLY (THE JURORS CONSTANTLY EXPECT EVERY SINGLE CASE TO HAVE THE KIND OF RESOURCES THEY NEED FOR ON SITE FORENSIC EVIDENCE. FORENSIC EVIDENCE IS ONLY STUDIED BY 3 SCIENTISTS IN A LITTLE LAB ROOM AND THERE IS A 6 MONTH WAITING LIST) .

THE PROBLEM WITH CSI IS NOT THAT THEY ARE CREATING HYPER-FICTIONALIZED TELEVISION, BUT THAT THEY ARE DOING SO UNDER THE GUISE OF REALISM. IT BRINGS UP A REALLY DIFFICULT ARGUMENT ABOUT THE PURSUIT OF NARRATIVE VS. THE PURSUIT OF REAL-LIFE LOGIC. AGAIN, THERE IS SOME WIGGLE ROOM HERE, BUT HULK THINK IF THE MANNER OF STORYTELLING IMBUES A COMMITMENT TO TANGIBLE REAL-LIFE DETAILS, THERE IS ALSO AN ACCOMPANYING DUTY TO PORTRAY THOSE DETAILS IN A SIMILAR REALISTIC VEIN.

AND THAT MEANS YOU SHOULD DO YOUR RESEARCH.

NOW LET'S SWITCH GEARS OUT OF CHARACTER / REALITY AND GET INTO SOME POTENTIAL TROUBLE SPOTS WITH STORY APPROACH.

15. THE VALUE PRE-EXISTING CONFLICT.

"EVERYTHING WAS JUST FINE! AND THEN IT WASN'T!"

THAT IS THE FIRST ACT OF A WHOLE SHIT LOAD OF BAD MOVIES YOU SEE IN THEATERS. WE GET A WHOLE LOOK AT SOME WORLD THAT IS BUILT UP WITH A SENSE OF NORMALCY AND THEN AT A CERTAIN POINT, IT'S LIKE THE MOVIE ACTUALLY DECIDES TO START. NOW, THERE IS A WAY AND REASON TO DO THIS, BUT SO MANY MOVIES DON'T REALLY USE THAT TIME FOR ANYTHING IMPORTANT OR CRITICAL TO THE STORY. IT'S JUST SORT OF THERE. MORE THAN THAT, IT FEELS LIKE SO MANY DAMN MOVIES PASS UP ON THE OPPORTUNITY TO INGRAIN THEIR FILMS FROM THE VERY ONSET WITH A SENSE OF WEIGHT. ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS START PEOPLE IN THE MIDST OF A WORLD ALREADY IN CONFLICT. DOING THIS GIVES YOUR STORY IMMEDIACY, IMPORTANCE, STAKES, MEANING.

AND YET SO MANY MOVIES SEEM TO PASS ON THAT OPTION. HULK TOUCHED ON THIS EARLIER, BUT THEY'LL MAKE A DUMB MOVE WHERE THEY WILL FLASH-FORWARD TO LET US KNOW "THINGS ARE GONNA GET CRAZY LATER!" AND THEN JUST START THE MOVIE ALL REGULAR-LIKE. WHEN IN COMPARISON THERE ARE SO MANY GREAT MOVIES THAT START IN THE MIDDLE OF A LARGER CONFLICT. THERE'S BIG, BOLD EXAMPLES LIKE STAR WARS, WHICH FAMOUSLY STARTS IN THE MIDDLE OF A SPACE BATTLE. BUT IT DOESN'T EVEN NEED TO BE SOME GRAND SCALE THING. WE CAN START IN THE MIDDLE OF INTIMATE HUMAN PROBLEMS TOO. A PARENT'S DEATH. A RELATIONSHIP AT ODDS. A PAST-PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA. STARTING OFF WITH THESE PROBLEMS GIVES YOUR SCRIPT AN IMMEDIACY. ONE ENTERS A WORLD THAT ALREADY FEELS LIVED-IN AND WITH HISTORY. IT CREATES A WORLD THAT WE ALREADY KNOW HAS CONSEQUENCES AND IMPORTANCE.

THIS ISN'T TO SAY PRE-EXISTING CONFLICT SHOULD BE REQUIRED FOR EVERY MOVIE, JUST THAT SO MANY STORIES SEEM TO MISS OUT AN OPPORTUNITY TO USE IT. AND THAT'S A SHAME.

SO KEEP IT IN MIND!

16. THE JJ ABRAMS QUESTION - MYSTERY? VS. URGENCY!

JJ ABRAMS HAS BUILT A CAREER OFF THE POWER OF MYSTERY.

HULK DOES NOT FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE SAYING THAT. HE KNOWS THAT IT CAN ENGAGE AN AUDIENCE, PROPEL FURTHER DISCUSSION, CREATE A BEAUTIFUL ATMOSPHERE, AND LOCK INTO YOUR SENSE OF CURIOSITY. ALL OF HIS MOVIES AND TV WORK ABSOLUTELY COMMIT TO THE POWER OF MYSTERY. HE OUTLINES THE WHOLE THEORY IN HIS NOW-FAMOUS (INFAMOUS?) TED SPEECH ABOUT HOW MYSTERY CAN COMMAND A STORY ALL THE WAY THROUGH AND ESPECIALLY THE MARKETING PRESENCE. HIS FREQUENT CO-WRITER AND COLLABORATOR DAMON LINDELOF, OFTEN TALKS ABOUT HIS WRITING STRATEGY WHERE EVERY CHARACTER HE WRITES HAS A SECRET, WHICH INFORMS AND GUIDES THEIR DEPTH.

THESE TACTICS HAVE GREAT VALUE... BUT BOTH THESE GUYS TEND TO USE THEM TO A FAULT. SOMETIMES MYSTERY IS JUST NOT THE REQUIRED TONE. YES, MYSTERY CAN HANG OVER A SCENE TO WONDERFUL EFFECT, BUT IT CAN ALSO HAN OVER A SCENE TO AN INCREDIBLY MUTING EFFECT. SOMETIMES SCENES JUST NEED TO BE FUNCTIONAL. SOMETIMES THEY JUST NEED TO BE CLEAR.

SOMETIMES THEY NEED TO HAVE URGENCY.

URGENCY IS SIMPLE. URGENCY IS BORN FROM CLARITY. WE HAVE TO STOP THAT THING OR THE BOMB GOES OFF AND WE BOTH DIE! THE THING HULK REALLY LIKE ABOUT THIS KIND OF STORYTELLING IS THAT IT IS A VISCERAL KIND OF ENGAGEMENT. MYSTERY MAKES AN AUDIENCE MEMBER GO "OOOH, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?"AND BRINGS PEOPLE INTO THEIR MINDS TO PONDER. THIS IS ADMITTEDLY A VITAL ENGAGEMENT THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN OFTEN ENOUGH IN CINEMA. BUT IT IS OFTEN JUST A CEREBRAL ENGAGEMENT. AND URGENCY, WITH ALL ITS DULL SIMPLICITY, ALLOWS THE AUDIENCE TO "SKIP" THE USE OF THEIR BRAIN AND JUST EXPERIENCE THE FILM IN THE MOST PRIMAL AND EXCITING WAY. THAT MAY SOUND LIKE HULK IS ADVOCATING BEING A PHILISTINE, BUT NOT IT ALL. DIFFERENT SCENES / FILMS JUST CALL FOR DIFFERENT THINGS. AND HULK THINKS URGENCY IS MORE GEARED TO HOW BEST TO USE FILMMAKING'S NATURAL POWER.

AND DON'T THINK THAT URGENCY ONLY APPLIES TO ACTION AND STOP THE WORLD! CIRCUMSTANCES. IT WORKS JUST AS WELL FOR TWO CHARACTERS TALKING ABOUT THE SOMETHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO EACH OF THEM. IT IS WHOLLY FUNCTIONAL. THINK BACK TO HOW MANY CONVERSATIONS OF LOST HAD TWO PEOPLE WAXING PHILOSOPHICAL ABOUT SOMETHING WE NEVER ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD. WE WONDERED WHAT THE HECK THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT AS THEY TIP-TOED AROUND VAGUE CONCEPTS, BUT WE WERE NOT NECESSARILY ENGAGED ON CHARACTER OR STORY LEVEL. AND IT BECAME MORE AND MORE TIRESOME WITH EVERY PASSING SEASON. IT WASN'T THAT WE WANTED "ANSWERS" IT WAS THAT WE WANTED CLEAR STAKES AND SOMETHING THAT MATTERED. MYSTERY TRULY HAS A SHORT-TERM LIFESPAN. IF YOU TRY TO SUSTAIN IT FOR TOO LONG, YOU'RE SUNK.

SO IF LINDLELOF NEEDS TO HAVE EVERY CHARACTER HAVE A SECRET, DO WE THEN LOSE THE POWER OF TWO CHARACTERS ARGUING OVER STAKES WE BOTH UNDERSTAND? HULK UNDERSTAND THAT OFTEN LOST WAS THEMATICALLY INTERESTED IN SUBVERTING THE VERY IDEA OF WHAT ONE "CAN ACTUALLY KNOW" AND THUS NEED TO PUT ONES ENERGY INTO FAITH. BUT SO OFTEN THIS WISHY-WASHY MYSTERIOUSNESS OVERPOWERED THE MECHANICS OF BASIC NARRATIVE. WHAT'S FUNNY IS THAT THE FIRST SEASON REALLY DID UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF CLEAR STAKES AND TANGIBLE CHARACTER MOTIVATION. BUT THE DEEPER DOWN THE WELL THEY WENT, THE MORE THEY LOST SIGHT OF THAT BALANCE, SO MUCH SO THAT IT RUINED SOME OF THE POWER OF THE CENTRAL MYSTERY... AND PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THIS IS COMING FROM A HULK THAT REALLY, REALLY LOVED THE SHOW.

ULTIMATELY, THERE'S CLEAR REASONS TO USE BOTH MYSTERY AND URGENCY, BUT HULK JUST WANT YOU TO BE AWARE OF, YOU KNOW, HOW TO USE IT AND WHY. ASK YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD MAKE THIS SCENE WORK BETTER? NOT UNDERSTANDING THE URGENCY AND ENGAGING THE AUDIENCE ON CEREBRAL LEVEL? OR TOTALLY UNDERSTANDING IT AND ENGAGING THE AUDIENCE VISCERALLY?

NOTHING HIGHLIGHTS THE DIFFERENCES OF THE TWO APPROACHES LIKE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III AND MISSION IMPOSSIBLE IV: GHOST PROTOCOL. THE FIRST STEEPS EVERY CHARACTER, AND EVEN THE FILM'S MACGUFFIN IN THE TOTAL SHROUD OF SECRECY. THE SECOND EXPLAINS ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING AND TAKES YOU ON ONE HELL OF A COMPELLING RIDE.

... HULK KNOWS WHICH ONE HULK LIKED. WHICH DID YOU?

17. DON'T WRITE WOMEN JUST IN THE CONTEXT OF MEN

OKAY... HULK NOT GOING TO GET BIG INTO THIS, BECAUSE IT GOING BE UPCOMING COLUMN, BUT WRITERS, BOTH MALE AND FEMALE, HAVE TO DO A BETTER JOB WITH HOW THEY PORTRAY WOMEN. THEY JUST DO. THE CULTURE OF WOMEN IN FILM IS IN BAD, BAD WAY RIGHT NOW.

THERE'S A LOT OF LEVELS TO IT. THERE'S ACTIVE SEXISM "GIRLS JUST NEED TO BE IN A MOVIE SO MEN HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK AT!" AND CASUAL SEXISM "LET'S ONLY DEFINE WOMEN THROUGH THE GAZE AND CONTEXT OF THE MALE CHARACTERS!" AND EVEN SUBCONSCIOUS SEXISM "THE GIRL IN THIS MOVIE ARE WAY MORE INTERESTING, BUT GUYS ARE DEFAULT MAIN CHARACTERS!" AGAIN. HULK GOING TO ADDRESS ALL THIS LATER IN WAY MORE DETAIL (WITH A FEW CERTAIN BADASS GUEST STARS!), BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO CREATE INTERESTING, VIVID WOMEN WHO, YOU KNOW, HAVE THEIR OWN STUFF GOING ON. NOTICE HULK DIDN'T SAY "STRONG ROLE MODELS" BECAUSE THAT NOT THE SAME THING. HULK TALKING THE FACT WE CAN'T EVEN WRITE BASIC HUMAN TRAITS. HULK HEAR ALL THE TIME FROM STUDENTS AND EVEN PROFESSIONAL WRITERS "BUT I DON'T KNOW HOW TO WRITE WOMEN!" ... THAT'S B.S... IF YOU CAN WRITE A GUY YOU CAN WRITE A GIRL. TO SUGGEST ANYTHING OTHER THAN THAT IS RIDICULOUS AND NOTHING BUT OPTING TO BE LAZY.

YOU MAY THINK THIS ISSUE IS "NOT THAT IMPORTANT" TO THE STORY YOU ARE TELLING, BUT EVERY FILM CAN BE MADE BETTER BY MAKING THE WOMEN IN IT MORE THREE-DIMENSION. SERIOUSLY. EVERY FILM.  THINK OF ALL THE RARE FILMS THAT ACTUALLY MANAGE TO WRITE THREE-DIMENSIONAL WOMEN, AND WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT, BUT IT JUST SO HAPPENS EVERY AUDIENCE MEMBER COMES LOVES IT. EVEN THE MOST SEXIST DUDES ON EARTH, WHO INSIST THEY DON'T "NEED" INTERESTING PORTRAYALS WOMEN, CAN'T HELP BUT ENJOY WHATEVER THEY DO ON SCREEN. WE ARE SIMPLY MOVED BY INTERESTING, HUMAN CHARACTERS.

SIDE-NOTE: HULK ALSO HAS ANOTHER COLUMN PLANNED AROUND RACE IN MOVIES. BUT FOR WRITING PURPOSES? ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS WRITING CHARACTERS OF DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS? HERE'S A TIP: IF YOU'RE WHITE AND YOU'RE WRITING A BUNCH OF WHITE PEOPLE. TRY JUST SUDDENLY CHANGING THE RACE OF ONE OR MORE OF THE CHARACTERS. THEN CHANGE NOTHING ELSE... PROBLEM SOLVED.

CLOSING ARGUMENT? PEOPLE RESPOND TO PEOPLE BEING PEOPLE.

AND THAT'S ALL YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW.

NOW, LET'S HAMMER HOME THE THEMATIC ANGLE OF STORY-TELLING.

18. EVERYTHING YOU WRITE IS SAYING SOMETHING

WHETHER OR NOT WE MEAN TO PUT MESSAGES IN OUR FILMS AND MEDIA, THEY ARE STILL THERE.

THIS IS AN INESCAPABLE FACT OF AUTHORSHIP AND THE ANCHOR BEHIND THE ENTIRE FIELD OF SEMIOTICS. EVERYTHING CHARACTERS DO OR SAY, AUTOMATICALLY IMPLIES SOMETHING ABOUT THE WAY CHARACTERS THINK ABOUT LIFE. EVEN IF THEY ARE JUST AUTOMATED RESPONSES, DOES THAT NOT IMPLY AUTHOR IS SAYING SOMETHING ABOUT THE WAY CERTAIN PEOPLE MAY BEHAVE?

THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT CHARACTERS ARE AUTOMATICALLY A STAND IN FOR THE AUTHOR'S BELIEFS OR SOME SILLY NOTION LIKE THAT. BUT THERE IS A WAY THAT ALL AUTHORSHIP COMMENTS ON THE CHARACTERS. THE MANNER OF PORTRAYAL, THE TOTALITY OF EVERYTHING THEY SAY AND DO, HAS CONSEQUENCES, CONTEXT, AND A TONE OF PRESENTATION. THERE ARE LAYERS TO IT. AND AN AUTHOR'S MESSAGES, WHETHER INTENTIONAL OR UNINTENTIONAL, ARE EXPRESSED THROUGH THOSE LAYERS OF CONTEXT.

A GOOD STORYTELLER KNOWS HOW TO HARNESS THOSE MESSAGES.

AS IN THEY USE THE STORY'S CONTEXT TO CREATE THEIR OWN MEANING. HULK TALKED ABOUT THE IDEA OF ART AND INTENTION A GREAT DEAL IN HULK'S VIDEO GAME COLUMN ON CALL OF DUTY AND THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO EXPRESS AN IDEA IN SCREENWRITING, BUT THE ONE CORE THING YOU NEED TO HAVE IS A SIMPLE AWARENESS OF WHAT YOU ARE SAYING. IT CAN BE SOME GRAND ON-THE-NOSE POLITICAL STATEMENT, IT CAN BE NUANCED THOUGHT ABOUT A CHARACTER'S BEHAVIOR, IT CAN BE SIMPLE JUSTIFICATION OF HEROISM AND KINDNESS. BUT IT SAYS SOMETHING. AND THE SIMPLE AWARENESS OF WHATEVER THAT IDEA IS, YOUR THEME, YOUR PURPOSE, OFTEN DOES HALF THE JOB OF SORTING THAT CONTEXT FOR YOU. HULK WILL SAY IT AGAIN: THE MERE ACT OF HAVING A VIEWPOINT AND THEME IN YOUR HEAD WHILE WRITING WILL DO HALF THE JOB FOR YOU.

HULK KNOW THAT HULK SAY IT ALL THE DAMN TIME, BUT AWARENESS MATTERS. EVERYTHING YOU WRITE IN YOUR SCREENPLAY MEANS SOMETHING.

THIS IS WHERE WE GET INTO THE CONCEPT OF "SOUL" IN THE MIND, BODY, SOUL APPROACH TO MOVIES. WHEN HULK TALKED ABOUT IDEAS AND SUBJECTS THAT COMPEL YOU BACK IN THE INSPIRATION SECTION, THE INTENT WAS TO PROVIDE THEMES THAT CAN BE USED TO COMPEL BOTH YOUR CHARACTERS AND THEN THE AUDIENCE. IT IS YOUR CHANCE TO CONNECT TO THE PERSON'S SOUL.

THEMATIC MESSAGES ARE NOT A BURDEN OR A RESPONSIBILITY, BUT A DAMN OPPORTUNITY.

THEME ALLOWS THE AUTHOR TO SAY SOMETHING IMPORTANT. IT DOESN'T NEED TO BE OPPRESSIVE AND DOMINATE THE STORY OR SENSE OF FUN IN YOUR FILM. EVEN IN THE MOST SILLY OF COMEDIES LIKE THE OTHER GUYS, MCKAY FINDS A WAY TO COMMENT ON THE THINGS HE FINDS IMPORTANT AND MAKES THEM WORK WITH THE CONTEXT OF A SEND UP OF ACTION MOVIES. FOR INSTANCE, HE TOTALLY FINDS IT INTERESTING THAT ACTION FILMS OFTEN FEATURE THESE CRAZY ETHNIC BAD GUYS WHO OPERATE DRUG CARTELS AND MURDER AND STUFF, BUT WHOSE EXPLOITS ARE ALMOST NOTHING COMPARED TO THE PERVASIVE SHAME OF WHITE-COLLAR CRIME. SURE, THE FILM MAKES FUN OF OVER-THE-TOP CAR CHASES AND CLICHED SUPER-POLICE OFFICERS, BUT IT IS ALSO SERIOUS CRITICISM ABOUT THE SIMPLISTIC WAY ACTION FILMS PAINT GOOD AND BAD.

AND EVEN IF YOU JUST WANT YOUR MOVIE TO BE FUN AND NOT OVERWHELM YOUR AUDIENCE WITH "MESSAGES" THERE IS A WAY TO DO THAT TOO.  YOU CAN POST-MODERNLY THUMB YOUR NOSE AT THE IDEA OF "SAYING SOMETHING," AVOID WHAT YOU THINK IS TRITE OR DIDACTIC, AND IMPLORE THAT VERY THEMATIC MESSAGE INTO YOUR FILM. HULK MEAN, IF THAT'S WHAT YOU ACTUALLY THINK, ISN'T THE SCRIPT JUST AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE THAT CLEAR?

THEME IS ALWAYS AN OPPORTUNITY, NOT A BURDEN.

19. THE ENDING IS THE CONCEIT

SO IF ALL THE IDEAS IN OUR FILMS MEAN SOMETHING, THEN YOUR ENDING SHOULD SAY EVERYTHING.

WE OFTEN LOOK AT ENDINGS AS THOSE THINGS THAT JUST WRAP UP THE STORY AND MAKE US FEEL BETTER, BUT A BETTER WAY TO THINK OF AN ENDING IS FOR IT TO HAMMER IN EVERYTHING YOU EVER MEANT. ALL THE STORY, ALL THOSE THEMES, ALL THOSE IDEAS, ALL THAT WORK, IT SHOULD RESONATE AS THE AUDIENCE LEAVES THE THEATER. NOT BE EXTINGUISHED IN A MERCIFUL, PLACATING WHIMPER.

HULK TALKED ABOUT THIS AT LENGTH IN REGARDS TO JAMES GUNN'S EXCELLENT FILM SUPER, WHERE HE DIDN'T JUST DO THAT, BUT USED THE ENDING OF THE FILM TO REVEAL THE THEMATIC IDEA OF WHAT THE FILM WAS REALLY ABOUT THE WHOLE TIME. IT WASN'T SOME CHEAP PLOT TRICK, BUT A TRANSFORMATIVE, THEMATIC-HAMMER. THE FILM'S ENDING IS POWERFUL, RESONANT, AND RE-SHAPES THE ENTIRE FILM YOU SAW JUST BEFORE IT.

ENDINGS ALWAYS MATTER. HERE'S A RUN-ON SENTENCE FOR YA, BUT WHY ELSE WOULD SHAKESPEARE ALWAYS END HIS PLAYS WITH SOME HAUNTING OR BEAUTIFUL MONOLOGUE, DELIVERED BY AN ACTOR, SEEMINGLY RIGHT TO THE AUDIENCE, IN WHICH THEY WOULD RUMINATE ON THE EVENTS THAT HAVE TRANSPIRED, WHAT THEY MEANT, AND HOW THEY SHOULD RESONATE GOING FORWARD... HULK MEAN...  HE IS THE GREATEST WRITER EVER AND HE BASICALLY JUST TELLS YOU THE CONCEIT RIGHT AT THE END.

SO DO NOT LOOK AT THE ENDING OF YOUR PIECE AS A BURDEN, BUT AN OPPORTUNITY. AN OPPORTUNITY TO SAY EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO SAY IN YOUR MOVIE. IT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE POETIC, RESONANT, AND INTERESTING.

AND IF YOU SKIRT ON THAT OPPORTUNITY? AND JUST WRAP A FEW THINGS UP WITHOUT LIVING UP TO THE REST OF YOUR FILM? THEN THAT MIGHT BE A BIT OF A PROBLEM BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT THE AUDIENCE LEAVES WITH.

HAMMER HOME YOUR POINTS. END STRONG. SAY SOMETHING.

NOW LET'S QUIT THIS CONCEPTUAL SHIT AND GET INTO PART FIVE AND HOW TO USE STRUCTURE!

THIS PART ONE OF TWO. PART TWO HERE.

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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