In every premise, it is conflict that drives the communication forward. To prove your premise you must disprove the negation of your premise. The disproving of the negation of your premise is what actually propels your communication. If there is no negation and no conflict possible in your premise, then your communication will be stillborn, with no direction or goal. Many Christian movies fail from a lack of conflict. They should keep in mind that the world is caught in a spiritual battle; thus, conflict is both necessary and inevitable.

Drama means, “to do” or “to perform.” In performance, for every action, there must be a reaction. To illustrate this, have two friends stand five feet apart, facing each other, and ask them to tell each other in as many ways as they so desire, “ I love you” for no less than two minutes. After a very short period of time, this dialogue without conflict will become very boring. However, if you ask one to convince the other of his or her love for the other, and you ask the other to resist this advance, the dialogue will be very entertaining, and one, or the other, will have to relent, thereby establishing the premise for that brief scene as either “love triumphs over rejection” or “resistance destroys love.”

Some Christian radio and television interview programs are boring to all but a few loyal supporters, because the host avoids conflict or loses sight of the value of loving conflict. In these boring programs, the host and the guest spend all their time affirming each other so that the program remains static and uninteresting. If the host defines what he wants to discover in the interview, which is his premise, in such a way as to probe who his guest is and why the guest is there by asking the tough questions which the audience needs and wants to know, then there will be real dialogue. The interview will be interesting because there is conflict built into the program, even if only on the level of a premise such as “curiosity discovers important information.”

This conflict does not have to be mean, petty, or angry, as so much conflict is on non–religious television. The conflict can and will be loving if the tough questions which prove the host’s premise are asked in love. A thoughtful, loving host can ask tough questions in a loving way to reveal the interesting story that every guest has to tell. The conflict in the interview is merely the vehicle by which the guest proves his or her story to the host and the audience. Without a clear –cut premise, there will be no conflict, and neither the host nor the audience will have any idea what the host is trying to communicate.

There are four basic plots that categorize the primary types of conflict inherent dramatic stories: 1) Man against man, 2) Man against nature, 3) Man against himself, and 4) Man against the supernatural or sub–natural, including aliens.

These categories help us to evaluate the premise or main proposition in a story, but they may not help us determine whether the story fits the Christian worldview. Another traditional literary approach proposed by Northrop Frye[1] divides stories into five different kinds:

Mythic: The triumph of the hero/protagonist(s) by an act of God or god(s).

Heroic: The triumph of the hero/protagonist(s) by his or her own means.

High Ironic: The triumph of the hero/protagonist(s) by a quirk of fate.

Low Ironic: The failure of the hero/protagonist(s) by a quirk of fate.

Demonic: The defeat of the hero/protagonist(s) by evil, demons, et cetera.

A story that fits the Christian version of the traditional mythic story, where the God of the Bible or Jesus Christ helps the hero or protagonist overcome his or her antagonist, is a story that fits the Christian worldview. A story, however, where the hero or protagonist—especially a Christian one—is defeated by demons is probably not a story that Christians should want to see because it contradicts the biblical worldview.

Beyond the basic story types, there are various themes.
The eight basic themes are: Survival, Redemption, Revenge, Betrayal, Coming of Age, Love and Romance, Mistaken Identity, and “Fish Out of Water.”

To be continued…

Please read HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL) for a complete guide to filmmaking.

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Ted Baehr

Ted Baehr

A great story goes somewhere.

It tells us something.

That something is a premise.

A poor story wanders about, gets lost and bores an audience.

In a baseball game, the team with the most runs wins. You watch the game to see if the team that you like can get the most runs and win the game. Imagine how boring baseball would be if there was nothing to win: if “games” were like practice sessions where players just hit and fielded balls without a clear purpose. No one would want to pay to watch.

A premise says, “To win, I must show you that [premise].” It’s the filmmaker’s job to prove the premise with every ounce of skill they can muster.

The baseball team intent on winning a game does so with great pitching, fielding, hitting, running, and strategy. It’s obvious from the first pitch to the last what the goal of every action is. It’s to win.

A great movie aims to prove its premise with script, acting, lighting, sound, music, and editing. Hundreds of experts in their craft work to prove the premise, just as baseball players strive to win a game.

Think of it a little like Jesus Christ telling a parable. His parables were often stories, well told. They had characters doing things for a reason. Jesus didn’t tell the story of the prodigal son just to entertain his listeners. He was proving a premise about God’s love for those who’ve done wrong. His parable about the Good Samaritan proved that Godly love is not just meant for family and friends. Every character in the story, and every action they took, was important in proving the premise.

A premise has three distinct parts. A “this,” a “does” and a “that.”

The premise of the prodigal son story would be, “God forgives sin.” There is a subject “God”; an action “forgives”; and, an object “sin.”

On his way home, the prodigal son does not pass a Samaritan in a ditch. Such an event would be a distraction from the premise of the prodigal son story. On the other hand, the jealous brother is a powerful subplot. The jealous brother serves as a contrast to God’s love. The brother reveals human nature. His role in the story makes God’s grace look that much more amazing.

Subplots, like all aspects of filmmaking, should serve the premise.

A great movie delivers on the premise with show, rather then tell. Audiences don’t come to hear sermons delivered in dialogue.

Imagine a movie of the prodigal son story. The lighting, the music and a close-up on the father’s face, when he first sees his wayward son approaching, should say in music and image all you need to know about love and forgiveness. Body language and action should be like an inspiring work of art as he runs to meet his son. An audience should be in tears before the two speak a word to each other. What they are about to say should already have been said with facial expressions.

David Lean was a master of creating emotion without dialogue. In movies such as THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, he cut gracefully between sweeping scenery, and close-ups, telling far more than dialogue ever could.

Every aspect of a movie works to prove the premise. In a movie, you can “prove” a premise that’s not true. The entire American sexual revolution was built on media “proving” sex outside of marriage is healthy and desirable. It’s been a disaster.

Fortunately, we’ve been seeing more and more movies with premises supportive of faith and values. We long to see this growth continue.

How To Succeed in Hollywood Without Losing Your Soul by Ted Baehr

How To Succeed in Hollywood Without Losing Your Soul by Ted Baehr

Without a premise it’s unwise to start a script. It’s like wandering around in the dark. With a premise you have a reason for each character, each scene and each line of dialogue.

Ideas for scripts don’t always emerge the form of premise. You may get an idea for some situation and characters that you find to be entertaining or inspiring. Before you go off building a story around a clever idea, pause and ponder the premise such an inspiration demands.

You’ll find that beginning with a solid premise will save you from dealing will all sorts of headaches as your script develops.

It’s healthy to ask yourself on a regular basis, “How does what I’m writing help prove the premise?”

If it doesn’t help, or if it actually hurts, drop it.

_______

To be continued…

 

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Stories, Parables & Movie Scripts

Ted Baehr

Ted Baehr

Basic screenplay writing excerpted from HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL)

Part III

For Better or for Worse

Communicating effectively requires learning and applying the basic principles of language, grammar, rhetoric, technique, and general rules that govern each genre and medium. There are three levels of such principles: general principles (which apply to most communications), genre specific principles, and media specific principles.

There are also several steps involved in producing powerful communications, including movies and television programs. Here is a brief outline of the most important foundational steps in preparing your communication. Each genre and medium will modify this outline by adding or subtracting steps or substeps. However, this outline is your basic guide to the steps required to communicate effectively.

 

12 Basic Foundational Steps to Communicating Effectively:

  1. In light of who you are, why you want to communicate and well thought out research and ascertainment, make a brief note of what you want to say, your idea, conviction, or your key thought. This idea, thought, or statement must be something that you believe and want to communicate through a movie or television program.
  2. Ask and answer the appropriate ascertainment questions to target your audience, determine your genre and medium, and plan the execution of your communication.
  3. Rephrase your idea or key thought into an active premise that you can prove in your communication, taking into consideration your answers to the pertinent ascertainment questions.
  4. Identify the elements needed to prove your premise, most of which are inherent within your premise. In drama, these elements are your characters, conflict, climax, and resolution.
  5. Structure these elements taking into consideration your audience, genre, medium of choice and your answers to the ascertainment questions which are appropriate for your communication.
  6. Write out, plan, or script your communication, punctuating it with technical, dramatic, or literary effects to capture and retain audience interest.
  7. Prepare, storyboard, and/or rehearse your communication.
  8. Produce, polish, or otherwise finish your communication.
  9. Edit, review and revise your communication.
  10. Deliver, distribute or broadcast your communication.
  11. Survey your audience to find out how effective your communication was and how it can be improved.
  12. Review and revise your communication to improve it if possible.

Half of this process is preparation. Many people fail to prepare or dash off a script and believe that they will perfect it when the right person buys it. However, you never have a second chance to make a first impression, so you need to perfect your script right from the beginning, even if you need to change it later.

Remember that the average movie takes nine years from start to finish. The Passion of the Christ took ten years. Evita took twenty–three years. Batman took seventeen years.

How To Succeed in Hollywood Without Losing Your Soul by Ted Baehr

How To Succeed in Hollywood Without Losing Your Soul by Ted Baehr

There are several reasons why it takes so long. First, there are 300,000 scripts submitted every year to the Writers Guild of America and many more are written that are never submitted, aside from the flood of novels every year, but less than three hundred movies open in theaters every year. Thus, most scripts never make it into production. Second, Hollywood movies cost over $104 million to produce and distribute in 2010, and it takes a long, long time to get all the elements together so that some distributor or investor will want to put up this kind of money. Third, most people take years to get the script right. The Los Angeles Times interviewed a woman who was trying for twenty years to sell her script. She said that in all those years she had not had the time to take a scriptwriting course or read a book on scriptwriting. The Los Angeles Times and all of us should be perplexed: What was she doing all that time that she could not take a moment to learn her chosen craft?

To be continued…

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