And the Lord declared: Let There Be Really High Stakes

Published, MovieMaker Magazine, March 22, 2013

Attention all Screenwriters, Graphic Novelists, Novelists-Afraid-Of-Screenwriting, and Waiters, Bankers, Accountants, Teachers, Custodians, Firefighters, Cashiers and Parking Lot Attendants who Dream of Being Screenwriters:

You already know how to tell a great story. Quit worrying. Worrying is not your job. Writing is your job. Start writing. Start right now. Don’t even read this article. Begin writing your story right now.

For anyone still finishing their coffee & toast and in need of some entertainment before they get back to writing:

The reason you already know how to write a great story is this: You already know what the other guy would be thinking. And when I say ‘the other guy’, I am referring to your attentive friend, your fellow story lover: Your Reader.

How do you know what your reader would be thinking? The Voice in your head tells you. Aka: your Gut Translator. Some people call this voice their Lord in Heaven, some people call it the God of Creativity speaking through them. I call it your friendly Gut-Translator: Your Inner Voice. This voice is your inner writer-coach. Great gal to have around. Gal or guy, animal or mineral, listen to this sage advisor in your head. You were born with her and she is totally rooting for you. She is on the ball – and she is bang-on. As you write your universal tale of love or revenge, dear screenwriter, as you weave your adventure of loss, grief, murder or hope, this voice speaks to you the whole way along. You all have it. You just have to listen.

Ah, the listening part. The task is upon us, we humble servants of our imaginations, to listen as well as we can to this voice while we write. And darn it if distractions don’t sometimes get in the way. “This idea’s really gonna sell” gets in our way. “This character will really impress that producer” gets in our way. “NOW they’ll finally see I can write” and “No one’s ever seen THIS idea before” …get in our way. Sometimes our listening needs a polish. A dusting. Sometimes a murky curtain of second-guessing separates us from our sure-fire Voice Of Excellence. All I can tell you, dear valiant writer-at-whatever-stage-of-your-career: Keep listing to that Voice in your Head that is telling you what you Already Know.

As a story consultant and screenplay editor, all I do, every time, is guide you back to your gut. Your Voice. Your Gut-Translator.

Today’s Inner Writing Coach reminder of the day:  REALLY HIGH STAKES 

You gotta have high stakes in your screenplay. Really high stakes.That’s how you’re gonna make your audience care. Your inner voice knows this. She chimes in with things like:  “Come on, would Cinderella really put up with that? Make sure she’s trapped – socially, economically – something – otherwise she’d high tail it outta there for sure.”  …Or she pipes up: “Okay come on, she can’t SEE that that her grandmother is now a WOLF? I gotta see that she is REALLY looking forward to seeing her grandma. ‘Cause those are some serious blinders.” Show your audience that Cinderella has spent her last penny. Show us that Little Red has no other friend in the world.

When you have high stakes, your audience will be on the edge of their seats, viscerally and bodily CARING about your story. Really and truly caring. The whole point of storytelling. Keep your stakes Really High. Where there are high stakes, there is tension. You gotta have great story-tension from beginning to end: The exhilarating/promising ups and devastating/terrifying downs of a roller coaster ride. Then back up again. I don’t care if you’re writing the next James Bond adventure, or Driving Miss Daisy Part Two: More Driving. When you think your characters’ stakes are already high, make them higher.

How do you create high stakes? You SHOW me what is RIDING on the outcome of your character’s goals.  Seems obvious? I know that you fine writers know this instinctively, and yet, still, it is our daily duty to mine our characters’ hearts fully, and SHOW our audience the many WAYS our lead character is COUNTING on a certain positive / successful outcome.

Don’t only show me the planning of the heist. Show me the ways that the poverty is affecting the impressing of the girl. Don’t just show me the training and the glorious boxing match. Show me the the brother who no longer speaks to our boxer. Don’t only show me an election campaign, show me the birthday party no one comes to. Show me the frayed suits. Show me the whispering colleagues. Give me Henry’s nervous pick-up lines, yes, but also show me his agonizing dates-gone-wrong. Let’s see Henry get fired from his job.

All kinds of ways to create extremely high stakes. Your Inner Writer-Gut will always ask you questions, then provide endless ideas. Your Inner Voice wants to see what your characters are emotionally attached to. What addictions they are desperately trying to shake as they pursue their new plan.  Don’t only show me her fight to survive illness – also show me all she has to lose: her particular joys, inside jokes and successes before the illness crept in. Seen the opening of Pixar’s “UP” anyone?

Show me what is RIDING on the various outcomes of your characters’ actions. This is the way to make your audience feel great pain and profound love. Listen to the questions & suggestions of your Inner Writing Coach. You are about to complete a great screenplay.

T.S.

Tara Samuel is a script consultant and editor on fire about sharpening your screenplay. She is your script kicker. In close collaboration with you the client, Samuel zeroes in on the specificity of your characters, hones your story rhythm and maximizes your audience engagement helping you to create a perfect story-ride. Samuel kicks your script into ship-shape; kicks it through the goal posts, kicks it out of the park. This is her passion. www.scriptkicker.com

Tara Samuel is an award-winning producer-actor from Toronto. Recent Winner Best Actress, RUYB BOOBY. Her writing and directing has been celebrated on the festival circuit; articles on filmmaking published widely, most recently in MovieMaker Magazine. Samuel teaches a 6-wk screenwriting course in Los Angles with co-instructor John Sandel, The Script Kitchen. More information: scriptkitchen@gmail.com

Tara Samuel is story editor for screenwriters Jon Rannells, Ruby Booby, Mexico-Machismo, Mr.Happy-Joy; Paula Tiberius, Male Order, Bitch Magnet, Kathryn Winslow, Downtown Mrs.Brown, Sam Zvibleman, The Rwanda Blend, Justin Miller, The Sound & The Shadow, Andrew Ahn, The Good Life, Summer Vacay, Biggz, Gareth Bennett, Bang Baby Bang, Deborah LaVine, Aunt Janny’s Money, Darrow Carson, Absolving Grace, Whit Spurgeon, The Interview – among many others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daily vitamin, or a short film

Three cheers to short films. Short films inspire. Short films frustrate. Short films worm their way into your unconscious and make you want to jump up and make your own. Either that, or they make you want to write, or travel, or have a good argument with your sweetie, or start a revolution. Don’t forget about short films, dear reader. Find short films at film festivals; find them at your nearest library; find them online! Here’s the trailer for my own short film FIND – the first film script I ever wrote – terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. Write your script! Write your short story! Make your movie!

Last week, I saw a remarkable collection of short films at the Newport Beach Film Festival. These were startling, at times upsetting films, that gracefully and bravely explored the loves, losses and furies that drive the human heart. I found myself sitting in the dark thinking “I can’t take this!” (My version of “I love this!”) The program presented
The Future‘ – dir. Venetia Taylor, ‘Not Dark Yet‘ – dir. Brian Paccione, ‘Shirin’ – dir. Stephen Fingleton, ‘Charlotte’ – dir. Daniel Monks, ‘Neighbors’ – dir.Tracy Wren – and lastly our own ‘Praire Sonata‘, directed by Deborah LaVine. Three cheers to short films.

More inspiration for you – wait’ll you read the following – delicious:
Kurt Vonnegut on how to write a short story…..

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things- reveal character or advance the action.

5.Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Love this!
T.S.

 

 

I’m right there with you.

Dear Noble Writers.

I am your fan, your true-believer, your co-conspirator, your fellow-adventurer.
Here, I will share my thoughts and discoveries around writing, storytelling, filmmaking, and general Do-The-Scary-Thing living.
Read on. Write on. Go Us.

 

Article I finished today, to be published in the Pasadena Daily Photo:
***
It’s true, the story of an independent director-producer team could be set in any city – but for us it was Pasadena.  The filmmaking adventures of Jon Rannells and Tara Samuel are like a Family Circle map, dotting the Pasadena landscape: Cross these train tracks to a fundraising evening of short scenes at the Rialto; jump this fence and attend a publicity stunt balloon launch @ Lacy Park; run down this alleyway and find yourself at a wine & cheese screenplay reading at the Le Petit Vendome!

Our Film-Financing Coming Of Age story was set in Pasadena.

Curious about the balloon launch? But it’s obvious isn’t it? Jon and I decided that financing for his screenplay Dream Box could come from anywhere, including random places where balloons landed.  So we attached Dream Box “Evening of Short Scenes” invitations to balloons, launched the colorful carriers into the air and let fate take care of the rest. Would-be film financiers would find our charming postcards, and mark their calendars! Sit back and collect!

We knew of course that this savvy tactic would need to be complimented by door-to-door efforts. No face-to-face contact – not necessary – just your standard Dream Box Postcard gift bag – complete with Dream Box Pen – left on your lovely Pasadena front lawn. (Perhaps you dear reader are still in possession of one of these collector’s items.) Each unsuspecting  homeowner would be sure to light up at the sight of their bag, read the invitation, and be irresistibly drawn to us! Let the checks roll in!

Cut to the Rialto. Magical baroque setting, trademark sharp and original Jon Rannells script; intelligent and heartbreaking acting. Just a little low on audience members.

Cut to our next fundraiser – tucked behind Lake Ave. – hosted by the generous proprietors of the charming Le Petit Vendome! Never ones to give up – not ever – this event featured another outstanding screenplay written by Jon Rannells, “Stand the Gaff”. The setting was cozy and quaint. We were proud to be there. Just a little short on attendees.

And then, we ran out of patience. Waiting for a silly thing called a budget can get a filmmaker down. So we went into production. Held weekly candle-lit BBQ script readings in Jon’s backyard under the Pasadena stars. Selected our shooting dates. Borrowed everything. Made our first feature film – Ruby Booby – in the nooks and crannies of Pasadena. Now to fund the DVD prints, the festivals, the licensing…sigh…breathe…

My great awakening: Films need budgets. And the Independent Film Fundraiser in me will never die. Film-financing is a welcomed step; fence to jump;  river to scout – in the HOW on the way to the far greater WHY.  As my great friend John Sandel says: “These stories need to be released.” John introduced me to California poet Gary Snyder: “We call them stories because that’s where we store our wisdom.”

So a group that I co-founded, We Make Movies – we are raising funds for five remarkable films. This is the new Hollywood model. And you, dear reader, are a part of it. Have your Film Financing Coming Of Age Awakening with me. I dare you to join the ride. This is just the beginning… http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wemakemovies/we-make-movies-slate-two?ref=live

Tara Samuel
www.scriptkicker.com