Story is one of the most complex yet simple art forms in existence. It isn’t until you attempt to tell one that you realize how difficult it is to keep an audience interested.
I often think about the natural growth of a story. The more you focus on a single character and dramatic incident the more clear and concise your story will be. At our core we turn to story to learn about the world around us. Despite the human mind having the ability to understand great complexities and details, it will always require extra effort to do so – effort your audience isn’t looking to produce when they are seeking to be entertained. The more your story is packaged in a centralized question the more digestible your story will be.
My favorite thing about screenwriting has been the impact and significance required for each line. There is no place for waste, laziness, or meaningless repetition. Because screenwriting requires more dialogue than description, I have a bad habit of “hearing the conversation” and writing according to how I imagine it might play out. This isn’t a fundamental error, as it improves the natural flow, but it becomes easy for a character to repeat themselves and shine a spotlight on their personality rather than the problem that is being overcome. Furthermore, the natural progression of a conversation does not incorporate any character change or overwhelming obstacles. The most memorable and impactful moments of any story are the actions your character performs that betray what their former self would do. How common is it for a parent to be petrified of their child drinking, smoking, or using drugs? Yet the origin of that fear often comes from knowledge of our their own experience and how it affected their lives. That is a character change.
I do feel our most fascinating ideas and concepts should always reserve page space in what we write. One of the most entertaining shows of the last 20 years is South Park. It is easy to watch this show, enjoy it, and feel it is nothing more than an escape from the pressures of the world. But in reality South Park incorporates a 3 act structure, a climax, and a theme. One item that differentiates South Park from other comedies that fail to hold our attention is the constant comedic gems. Family guy, on the other hand, is all comedic gems with no importance given to the story. I am convinced each episode of South Park is guided by an absurdist idea that brings the writers to crack up laughing. They know their idea is hilarious and find a way to make it a staple that falls within the necessity of the story requirements.
I feel there are far too many suspense, mystery, and action stories that stray so close to plot points that they lose sight of what keeps viewers interested in the first place. Your audience will never be a soulless academic who marks off a story-checklist with each page that they turn. You’ve got to include the good stuff that makes your audience uncertain about how they would handle a similar situation. Such is the conflict that produces an intriguing premise.
On top of writing this morning, I am hoping to record the content for another YouTube video. I return to work tonight and will be preoccupied with the daily grind for the following week and a half. I am eager to make the major changes to my script today in order to begin casting the roles and finding my locations. Enjoy your own daily pursuit and make the most of the hours you have been given.
If you’re curious about Cheaters Prosper: I have to contact the actors and actresses to find out who is available weeknights this week. I need to purchase a legit poker table, because the majority of the remaining scenes require one.
If you’re curious about Just Leasing: My friend from Berkeley is available this Monday and Tuesday. So is Catrina. I have to call Jordan tomorrow and find out if she is up for filming on these days. I haven’t contacted a cameraman/woman, and am currently leaning toward filming this sitcom-style episode on my smartphone. This project is not nearly as important to me as Cheaters Prosper, and therefore I do not intend the finished product to be as cinematic-ally catching. My goal is for it to be funny, and I don’t think people have the same expectations for an episode of comedy as they do for a dramatic pilot.
In a previous post, I mentioned how the 2 girls who pushed me to write a sitcom episode hadn’t been getting back to me. Yesterday my worst fears were confirmed when Catrina called and informed me they were opting out of the project. This really bothered me, but I got back on the horse today.
While driving to get a cup of coffee and planning to look for new ways to break into the screenwriting community, I decided to take a giant leap out of my comfort zone. I looked up “Stand up comedy open mic” on my smartphone and found a bar offering just that not too far away.
I drove over and took the initiative to meet a few of the stand-up comics before they performed their sets.
The main person I talked to was a comic by the name of Brian Mathews. I asked him a variety of questions, and as I had hoped, he led me in the right direction.
I learned that it is typical for a new stand-up comic to bomb during their first 6 months of performances (a lesson I would confirm a short while later). More importantly, he informed me that it takes, on average, about 2 years before you start getting paid to perform.
Even then, the pay is not great – 25 bucks for a set is the standard rate, while a full 45 minutes of material may net you $75. While this may sound like a great hourly rate, it’s easy to overlook the fact that such a long set would take hours and hours to prepare.
Nevertheless, I’m happy I got to talking with him. One of my biggest goals for the new year is to meet more people with similar aspirations to my own. Networking has always been an area I’ve avoided, but I’m convinced it is necessary if I’m going to make any sort of career in the entertainment industry.
Posted below is a short clip from Titus Jones’ set. He was hilarious and kept the crowd laughing the entire time he had the mic. Check him out and tell your friends.
- Thomas M. Watt
If you haven’t read part 1, start here.
If you haven’t read part 2, start here.
“Waddup bitches, see you’ve met my friend. Huge cock, case you were wondering. Name’s Freddy,” said Freddy, as he extended his hand out for the girls to shake.
Donald took Freddy’s hand, then yanked him along with him, away from the two girls. “Time to leave.”
“Strip club?” said Freddy.
The pair passed through the doorway, hurried by the smoke crowds, and headed toward the parking lot.
“She’s not feeling it. I don’t want to be here, this isn’t me,” said Donald.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Freddy. He stopped on the sidewalk. “If you want to leave to go somewhere else, that’s one thing, but if you wanna book it ’cause of some chick-”
“I know, I get it, that makes me a pussy.”
“Jeeze, Donald,” said Freddy. He looked his buddy in the eye. “I wasn’t gonna call you that, you know.”
“Super pussy. That was it.” Freddy’s eyes bulged, and he pointed back toward the bar. “Look!”
Donald whirled around. The two girls were approaching, only Thurma walked stilted, like Amanda may have had a gun to her back.
“Bye I guess,” Thurma said to Donald, as they passed.
Donald waved back. “Nice meeting you,” he muttered after they were out of earshot.
“Is your dick for sale cause that shits in demand these days,” said Freddy.
“What are you talking about?”
“You leave. She leaves. She comes your way, wishes you a goodnight, checks out your package. What do you do? You rotate your hand like the slow-mix setting of a god-damned cake mixer.”
“She checked out my package?”
“Winked at it.”
Donald gulped, lightly patted his hair, then slid his hand along his button-down to smooth out the creases. He then shook his head and turned to Freddy.
“I’m only going over there if you’re one-hundred percent sure she’s interested.”
“Bro,” started Freddy. “Interests is for loaners. Girl is invested. You know who invests?”
“Shit rhymes, bro,” said Freddy. “Called a metaphorical simile.”
Freddy kicked Donald in the ass, leading him to stumble off in the direction of Amanda and Thurma.
“Go get her heart-breaker,” said Freddy.
Donald caught himself then continued to follow his feet.”I think I can,” He said to himself. A new flurry of visuals played through his mind, the type he wasn’t accustomed to – confident images. He stopped thinking of himself as an inconvenience to the world around him, and began to entertain the possibility that he actually could make a girl happy, and maybe Thurma would be the one for him.
“I think I can,” he said to himself, chugging along the sidewalk tracks. “I think I can.”
To be continued…
- Thomas M. Watt
If you missed Part 1, start here.
“Dear… God,” said Craig.
Buford and Marlon came sprinting from the Burger King across the street. They had decided to chase after Craig, who apparently had ‘desecrated’ the restaurant they worked at when he spilled the french fries he had ordered after passing through the drive thru. Still soaking wet from the coca-cola the two had poured on him, Craig had no choice but to rush inside the auditorium and begin the conference.
This was Craig’s last real shot to turn things around, and he knew it. The last few months had been difficult – one odd-job after another was no way to pay the bills. Not long ago Craig was one of Forbes top 10 motivational speakers, and now he found it difficult just to get himself out of bed every morning. With an imminent foreclosure in the works, everything was riding on this conference – after all, fifteen of the country’s richest CEOs had come to hear him speak.
Craig entered the auditorium, where he estimated five to ten thousand business professionals sat waiting for his talk.
“Where have you been?” said Darcy, his assistant. “You’re late!” She reached out to straighten his tie, then noticed the coca-cola drenching his suit. “Oh my God-”
“Just work with me, okay? Where’s my mic?”
“You look like shit.”
Craig stared back at her.
“Here,” said Darcy. She held out the microphone, and he grabbed it from her.
Craig turned it on, then secretly wished he could somehow fast-forward the next five hours. He opened while walking up the center aisle toward the stage.
“The key to success,” he began. There must have been at least a thousand murmurs about the dark soft drink dripping from his suit. He climbed on stage, then walked toward the podium. Every step he took was accompanied by a rubbery ‘squeak.’ Craig adjusted his collar.
“You see the key to success is-” A sharp ringing from the microphone interrupted Craig and caused many in the audience to cover their ears. Craig lowered his head and sighed, then began to turn and twist his ear, a nervous habit he hadn’t been able to break since he was a child.
The hushed voices surrounding him quickly turned to full-blown conversations, and Craig didn’t have to be telepathic to know they were talking about him. This was it for Craig – his career as a motivational speaker was finished. He’d be lucky to ever work a decent-paying job again.
The doors to the auditorium flew open. The two Burger King employees, who were now wearing the plastic ‘King’ crowns the fast-food chain is notorious for, stormed in.
“Oh shit,” Craig said, into the microphone.
“Oh shit is right!” Shouted Buford, before flipping his mullet.
The audience turned around to face the men when they stood at the back. It was not uncommon for motivational speakers to use guest speakers as gimmicks to keep their audience engaged – unfortunately for Craig, this was not part of his act.
“Tell these fools why you better than us!” Said Marlon, who was Asian.
The audience laughed.
“Yeah!” Said Buford. “Tell ’em all about how crappy the BK lounge is these days.”
“Or how you hate black people,” added Marlon.
The audience gasped, then turned to Craig.
“Or!” said Buford. The audience returned their attention to him. “You can tell them the same thing you told us.”
“Yeah!” said Marlon. “Tell ’em Buford!”
“Tell him about how you went out of your way, came over to our place of work, and told us how to do our jobs better!”
“Yeah!” said Marlon.
Buford went on. “Tell ’em how, when I asked if I could take your order, you tried to get me to do my job better. Crappy service! That’s what this man said to me!”
Buford shook his mop at Craig. The audience started laughing. “This guy comes to me, wearing his freshly pressed suit, driving his Mercedez Benz, and tries telling me how I can be more like him!”
The audience cheered Buford on. He broke into a run, then climbed on stage. Marlon followed after him, but tripped and fell his first eight attempts. Buford paced around the stage as he continued. “Just cause I work at Burger King, that don’t mean you can come here and tell me how to do my job! That don’t give you no right to insult my service, say you’re gonna eat somewhere else if I don’t pull it together!’ He pointed at Craig. “But this man did.”
The audience cheered.
“Only rich dude I ever known in my whole life, who feels compelled to come to the BK Lounge, demand I wait on his order, then create a huge mess, just to make sure I would actually clean it up!”
Craig took a good view of the audience – they were grinning, nodding even.
“And it’s because of this man, ladies gentlemen, that I am here today.”
Everybody stood up – a standing ovation!
“Thank you,” said Craig, reaching out to Buford’s shoulder.
“I’m not finished!” he said, then swatted his hand away. “You think I’m finished talking about you, let me tell ya! I’m just getting started. Earlier today, he comes and says…”
For the next five hours, Buford repeatedly rallied the audience to their feet and convinced several of the country’s most powerful figures that even a Burger King drive-thru worker could learn to be as motivated as someone like Craig. After the seminar, all anyone could talk about was how remarkable Craig was for having such a tremendous influence on Buford’s life. Craig left the auditorium hanging his head, however, for he knew as soon as he got home he’d be back to dealing with the foreclosure of his home.
“Craig!” Yelled one of the country’s elite CEOs.
He turned around. “Yes?”
“That was some impact you had on that young man who spoke today!”
Craig scratched his neck, then turn to look at Buford and Marlon as they crossed the street. The men were at least ten years older than Craig. He returned to the CEO. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome! How would you like to come work for me?”
Craig tried to smile, then walked closer and let out a breath. “To be honest with you sir, I’m dealing with piles of unpaid bills and a soon-to-be auctioned home.”
“Then I assume you’ll take it?”
“I don’t mean to be frank, but unless the starting figure is six figures and starts tomorrow, I’m going to have to busy myself with lawyers and bank meetings for the next few months.”
The CEO looked both ways, then began walking toward a white van and waved for Craig to follow. Craig did, but stayed a few paces back out off caution.
“My company doesn’t believe in the green,” said the CEO, as he unlocked the door to his white van.
“The green? Sorry sir, I don’t follow.”
He opened the door, and outpoured gold coins, diamonds, and jewlery. It was as if the CEO had just driven from robbing a pharoahs tomb in Egypt.
“Dear God!” shouted Craig. “Where did you get all this?” he stopped, checked over his shoulder, then whispered to the CEO again. “I must be staring at a hundred million dollars right now.”
The CEO picked up a gold coin, rubbed it with his fingers, then flipped it over to Craig. “You’ll take the job then?”
“Absolutely!” said Craig.
The CEO smiled again, then reached inside the van. This time he retrieved a robe and crown, both of which he put on to wear.
“I just have one question, if you don’t mind,” said Craig.
“Go ahead, I’m listening.”
“Who… are you?”
“I am,” began the CEO, before grabbing hold of Craig’s shoulder. “The Burger King.”
- Thomas M. Watt
Craig had ten minutes before he’d be introducing himself as the keynote speaker in a conference that included fifteen of the country’s richest CEOs. He was across the street from the building, and just about to pull in, when he made a last minute decision to yank the steering wheel left, and take his rented Mercedes over to Burger King.
If he didn’t eat now, he’d be speaking on an empty stomach for the next five hours. And Craig knew all too well that this was his last chance to impress the right people and find a way to save his house from foreclosure. Hell, if it went really well, he might even be able to lease a decent car!
“What you want?” came the voice through the drive-thru menu.
“Yea, just give me a minute, I need to order something healthy. Sorry, I just can’t afford to feel like crap today.”
Craig looked sharp – freshly pressed suit, striped tie, polished shoes. He checked himself in the rear-view mirror, then brushed the little bit of hair he had left over his bald spot. Craig frowned.
“Go get food somewhere else then.” Said the drive-through speaker.
“Sorry? What was that?”
“If our food’s so crappy, order somewhere else.”
“No, I didn’t mean that,” said Craig. He smeared his forehead with his hand. “I just said, I said I can’t afford to feel crappy today. I’d like to order a-”
“Oh,” said the drive-thru employee. There was a sudden static sound, like a hand had grabbed onto the microphone. “He said he doesn’t want to feel crappy today.”
Craig heard a second employee say: “So our food makes people feel like crap, now?”
“No, just this asshole. Look at him. Sitting in his Mercedez, new suit, thinks he’s better than us. You’re bald asshole, why don’t you just go kill yourself!”
“Uh, excuse me,” said Craig.
“What you want?”
“Just forget it. I’m not going to order anything, just let me pass through and I’ll-”
“OH!” said the employee through the speaker. “Couldn’t find the non-crap menu, is that it?”
“No, it’s not that. I just have a really important conference that I need to get to.”
The same crumpled static sound returned. Craig shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose as he overheard another private conversation.
“What’d that bald asshole say?”
“He says he’s got a important conference to go to. Says our foods not that crappy.”
“He says it’s not that crappy?”
“Yea! You believe that?”
“Tell him he gets a free meal, on us.”
“So we can spit in it.”
Craig crossed his arms and waited for the employee to return to him.
“Sir,” came the voice.
“Yea?” said Craig.
“We at the Burger King have decided to offer you a free meal to make up for our crappy service.”
“It’s really ok. I’m just going to pass through once this guy in front of me gets his meal.” He checked his watch – five minutes before he needed to be on stage.
“Oh. Don’t worry, we got a speedy delivery service.”
Craig scratched his temple, then muttered to himself. “Speedy delivery?”
The customer ahead of him completed their purchase. The employee in the drive-thru window stuck his head out, then pointed at Craig. He had eyes as narrow as a falcons, and a long mullet in the back. He held an Xtra large fountain soda in one hand, and pointed at Craig with the other.
“Oh no,” said Craig.
He slammed down the gas pedal, and burned rubber as he tore through the drive-thru lane. Right as he was passing the window, both employees hurled coca-cola and french fries into the rental Mercedez. The food and drink splashed and stuck to Craig’s clean suit.
“Shit!” Craig yelled, screeching to a halt. He got out from his Mercedez and brushed the fries off. He shook his head, then shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Can’t afford to be upset today,” he told himself. “The wife and kids are counting on you.”
Craig opened his eyes to find the fast food manager standing by the doorway outside.
“Buford, Marlon! Get out here, some suit driving a Mercedez just poured his french fries out. Come pick it up.”
“Oh no,” said Craig. He rushed back into the rental car, sped straight across the street, then pulled into the parking lot. He took another deep breath, then spoke to himself again. “You can do this. Just calm down, that’s all behind you now.”
Craig exited his Mercedez, straightened his coca-cola stained suit, then checked his watch – he still had three minutes. “Punctuation is key to peak performance,” he said then adjusted his striped tie and smiled.
Craig slowly turned and looked in the direction of the yell. Running across the street was Buford and Marlon.
Buford pointed with his mop. “You think you can desecrate the BK lounge and get away with it!”
“Dear… God,” said Craig.
To be continued…
- Thomas M. Watt
A good friend of mine, let’s call him Harry, has this strange fascination with acting like a complete idiot in front of strangers. On a recent night of boredom, he decided to go on tinder and make a complete ass of himself. In case you’re unfamiliar with Tinder, it is a dating app where people match with potential partners then communicate to see if they have any chemistry. It is not uncommon for men to initiate conversations with pick-up lines. Harry, however, is no ordinary pick-up artist. Here are his results:
- Thomas M. Watt