My Schadenfreude Is Becoming A Problem

       Schadenfreude is a cute word of German origin that means “pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”
       My LA-based friend The Angry Screenwriter (T.A.S.) emails me with the news of deals that have fallen apart. Not his deals, but the deals of other screenwriters or TV writers he knows.
       He relishes in their misfortune, primarily because he has had so many deals fall through that he feels it’s his right to gloat. It’s easy to be vindictive like this if you’ve been screwed a few times. I understand. I’ve found myself enjoying the news that someone’s deal fell through. My Catholic upbringing then makes me feel guilty, then I get to thinking about the bad karma and I try to rescind my bad thought.
       The Angry Screenwriter asked to expand on this theme:
       Many years ago I heard the following maxim: “success isn’t enough, others must fail.” I also heard it this way: “success isn’t enough, your friends must fail.” When I was younger I couldn’t relate to this. But the longer I spent in Hollywood getting deals, almost getting deals, having deals blow up for reasons having nothing to do with the script I started to become hardened.
       I found myself getting jealous when somebody else got a huge payday or a movie made while my projects were wallowing in development hell or being messed with by a producer.
       Even though I’ve had movies made and earned some serious coin, I feel that I’ve been wounded enough to feel justified in not being sad or sorry for someone who has a deal fall through.
       I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish I could be more Christian or understanding or sympathetic. Somewhere along the way I heard of the word schadenfreude and I realized that I was experiencing it. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I could be supportive and encouraging to people who had something fall through.
       But I can’t. At least not at first. My immediate reaction is “good. Now you know what it feels like.” But as I get older and more mellow I find myself trying to be understanding and not be happy.
       So if I can give you some unsolicited advice: don’t let your schadenfreude get in the way of being a kinder human being.

Twitter For Screenwriters

  • OMG. Get your story started fast
  • Have the Instigating Event (or Inciting Incident if you prefer) happen ASAP—within Pages 1-4
  • Make sure The Major Dramatic Question is clear by the end of Act I
  • Have plenty of complications in Act 2. Don’t make things too easy for your protagonist
  • Get your subplot rolling early in Act 2
  • Remember: almost every film ever made has a romantic subplot. Yours should too
  • Always have a middle of Act 2 event that cranks up the action. Approximately Page 55
  • Have a big moment at the end of Act 2 that propels the story into Act 3. Think of it as introducing new information
  • Have another event in the middle of Act 3 that further cranks up the action
  • Aim for a satisfying ending. Doesn’t have to be happy, but it should be satisfying
  • After your first draft, get feedback from 3 trusted friends. Do a rewrite, then get feedback from your most trusted friend. Do a polish
  • IMO. After the polish don’t look at it for a few weeks. Longer if possible. The distance will give you clarity. Then do a final pass
  • You are done
  • Focus on trying to find an agent, manager or producer to read your script
  • Start your next screenplay and repeat the process
  • And in the words of Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never give up!"
  • B4N

How To Confront The Unforgiving Nature 0f Third Acts

           My early training was as a playwright. Although most plays over the last forty years are two acts, historically plays were three acts. One of the first rules I learned was that if there were problems in Act 3 it meant that the real problem was in Act I.
            Since the 3 Act Structure is what most screenwriters use to write their scripts, the rule I learned as a playwright is dead on.
            If you’ve been writing a while and have started, but not finished, a number of scripts, chances are you walked away from them because you couldn’t make your third act work. If there’s a way to make them work it has to do with how you end your second act.
            Act 2 must end with a bang. A surprise. New information. Most films don’t have a big End of Act 2 moment. The ones that do rock! The best one ever is in The Crying Game. If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen The Crying Game I don’t want to spoil it for you, so rent it.
            By building your second act to a big moment or reveal or twist or new information, you propel your audience into Act 3 with momentum. Say you’re writing a romantic comedy and the story is basic will boy get girl? You’re moving along and the boy is pursuing the girl and then you get to the end of Act 2 and we find out that she’s married. If we didn’t see that coming, you’ve pulled it off and made us say: “What’s going to happen now?”
            It’s important to know that you don’t necessarily need to have a humongous event happen at the end of Act 2 (like in The Crying Game). But you need to have something. Something that makes your audience (and remember, your first audience are the people reading the script) smile or nod their heads or think “Interesting.”
            Getting to that moment means doing your preliminary work. An outline. Not all that long and not for anyone but yourself. Basically you write down (no dialogue) whatever will happen in Act I, then whatever will happen in Act 2 and point out the new information that will propel you into Act 3.
What Act 3 is all about is how your main character handles whatever that new information presented to him was. What action must he take? And if he takes it, what is the risk? Or if he doesn’t take it, what are the consequences?
Act 3 can be beaten and controlled and made to work for you. But before you get there, do an outline and know where you're going.