Hi Film Doctor Folk!
Today we offer a very special surprise for all screenwriters, producers and directors out there – particularly those working in the thriller/suspense genres.
The wonderful Lucy V. Hay of Bang2Write fame now has her wise writings available in all good bookstores (online and real world!) with Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays and we’re offering up a quick breakdown of what’s inside as well as an exclusive extract provided by Lucy and the team at Kamera Books…Read on!
The book begins with an in-depth look at the thriller genre and its derivatives, with case studies focusing on plot, characterisation and character dynamics (scroll down for the excerpt!) It is a great academic dissection of how and why thrillers work and gently leads the reader into the next step – writing your own.
The writing section includes tips for loglines, outlines, mapping out your work and is woven together with invaluable advice from agents, script consultants and established screenwriters. Not since Viki King’s How to Write a Movie in 21 Days has the art of building a screenplay from scratch been mapped out so comprehensively. Having worked in the thriller genre extensively herself, Lucy takes you through every process (conceptualising, outlining, working with three act) and makes sure you are asking yourself the right questions as you move towards your final polished piece.
The selling section is an absolute tour de force and could be a book in its own right. Lucy covers the all-too-absent-from-most-screenwriting-books topic of selling your work; the approach you should take, the submission documents you should have. The real chestnut here is her coverage of HOW films are financed, packaged and made. This is absolutely fundamental information for all writers – how to attract renowned actors and money men (you need to know it even if you’re not producing!) – and she covers it in great detail.
The Upshot: Full of fantastic tips from UK and US film industry heavyweights (such as Arvin Ethan David, Stuart Hazeldine) and bursting with practical info from Lucy’s own experiences, Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays is a must-read for any writer, producer or director looking to create (or in the process of creating) a thriller production. It could also be immensely useful for those generally curious about the genre or looking to learn more.
Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays – Excerpt
DRIVER IN DRIVE (2011)
As mentioned in the previous section on character archetypes, Driver is very much the ‘lone wolf’ type. We know relatively little about him, other than what we actually see, such as his stunt driving, working at the garage or walking up the hall of his apartment building. As with other classic ‘lone wolf’ narratives, Driver is a protector – and, as with his predecessors, we see him literally drive off into the sunset at the end. In an age where screenwriters are told we should know EVERYTHING about our characters, Driver is an enigma.
For the first half of the movie, Drive is essentially a love story; Driver finds his humanity in Irene and Benecio. So, when Irene drops the bombshell that her husband, Standard, is returning from jail, it would have been easy to imagine Driver becoming some kind of antihero by killing him in order to take his family. From there, he would then have had to pay for his actions, presumably by Benecio’s hand later, a story so typical it dates back thousands of years: in Sophocles’ play about the nature of consequence, Electra, Orestes and his eponymous sister avenge the murder of their father, Agamemnon, by killing their mother, Clytemnestra, only to recognise their siblings will most likely avenge her by killing them (thus taking us into revenge thriller territory). Yet Drive avoids this well-mined story with panache and, instead, Driver is thrown into a turmoil of double crosses when he attempts to help Standard pay his debt, only for Standard to end up murdered by the pawn-shop owner; subsequently, a hit is put out on Driver by mafiosos Nino and Bernie. Unusually, Irene and Benecio are not killed outright, with Driver avenging their deaths. Instead, he protects them, even at huge cost to himself: financially (he could take the pawn-shop money on a number of occasions and does not); physically, because he walks into Bernie’s trap willingly, ‘allowing’ himself to be stabbed; and also emotionally, because, in showing his savage side, he isolates Irene (she can never feel the same way about him as she did by the river once she has witnessed what he does to the man in the lift).
But Driver is only a great character because he is contrasted against a cast of complex and unusual secondaries. Irene, though a little oblivious and heavily idealised – we essentially view her through Driver’s eyes–is not your average heroine: in this kind of movie, we would expect far more histrionics from her. It would have been easy to make Standard a villain, but he is a loving father and husband who has made many mistakes and now wants to put them right; he is not what we expect. Shannon is shady, but a good guy; we want him to get away, as Driver insists he must (even though we know he inevitably won’t). And, most importantly, though they are both antagonistic forces to be reckoned with, both Nino and Bernie have softer, more human sides, too; neither believes they are a ‘bad’ guy and both have grown weary of killing and the various problems a life of crime creates. In the pizzeria, fearing retaliation, Nino and Bernie discuss tying up the loose ends – or, rather, Shannon and Driver, as well as Cook, blithely eating in front of them. Bernie’s subsequent exasperation at having to murder Cook, saying to Nino: ‘Now you clean up after me’ is brilliantly done. Similarly, Nino’s lament that he is not taken seriously by his peers (‘I’m 59, Bernie! They still pinch my cheeks!’) or Bernie’s sorrow at killing Shannon when he’d rather have raced the car with him, is palpable; Bernie almost seems kind when he actually kills Shannon, telling him ‘that’s it… no pain’.
So it’s important to remember that Drive is the sum of all its parts. With its eighties-style soundtrack, highly stylised shots/feel and graphic violence, Drive is a cult hit for a niche (adult) audience, rather than a big studio tent-pole movie like War of the Worlds. Driver is an instantly recognisable character, but one who seems out of his time, which draws us in. Surrounding Driver with such a variety of unusual secondary characters is a master stroke, because immediately we can grasp that Driver is meant to be an enigma, rather than an empty void.
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