THREE MINUTE ARISTOTLE – PART II

Aristotle Is A Story Stud.gifHere is the rest of my heinously abridged version of Aristotle’s Poetics – just parts that are important for screenwriters to know. (Part I is here.) Studying the real thing is better, and you can view it here.

Reversal of the Situation is a change by which the action veers round to its opposite, subject always to our rule of probability or necessity. Recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune. The best form of recognition is coincident with a Reversal of the Situation. the recognition which is most intimately connected with the plot and action is, as we have said, the recognition of persons. This recognition, combined with Reversal, will produce either pity or fear; and actions producing these effects are those which, by our definition, Tragedy represents.

Two parts, then, of the Plot – Reversal of the Situation and Recognition – turn upon surprises. A third part is the Scene of Suffering. The Scene of Suffering is a destructive or painful action, such as death on the stage, bodily agony, wounds, and the like.

A perfect tragedy should, as we have seen, be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. It should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear – that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.

A well-constructed plot should, therefore, be single in its issue. The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad.

Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way. Actions capable of this effect [should] occur between those who are near or dear to one another – if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son his father, a mother her son, a son his mother, or any other deed of the kind is done – these are the situations [that inspire pity and fear].

Now any speech or action that manifests moral purpose of any kind will be expressive of character: the character will be good if the purpose is good. As in the structure of the plot, so too in the portraiture of character, the poet should always aim either at the necessary or the probable. Thus a person of a given character should speak or act in a given way.

It is therefore evident that the unraveling of the plot, no less than the complication, must arise out of the plot itself.

Of all recognitions, the best is that which arises from the incidents themselves, where the startling discovery is made by natural means.

In constructing the plot, the poet should place the scene, as far as possible, before his eyes. In this way, seeing everything with the utmost vividness, as if he were a spectator of the action, he will discover what is in keeping with it, and be most unlikely to overlook inconsistencies.

As for the story, whether the poet takes it ready made or constructs it for himself, he should first sketch its general outline, and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail.

THE WRITER’S STEP DEAL

Question

Can you tell me exactly what a good development deal for a script should entail?

Cheers

Miranda From Australia

The most common script development deal in Hollywood is called the writer’s step deal. In this kind of deal, you (the writer) are promised a certain sum per step. The steps are usually (1) treatment, (2) first draft, (3) revision draft, and (4) polish. Ordinarily, the producer has the option of stopping at any step. The producer owns the material it has paid for and can continue with the project hiring other writers. The WGA has a short form agreement which sets out the terms of this kind of deal. If the writer is a guild member or the producer is a Writers Guild signatory, the writer is paid at least guild minimums. You can download the WGA 2004 schedule of minimums here.

A good deal is to have as many guaranteed steps as possible for as much above guild minimum as possible.

THE LAWYER THING

R.D. from Texas asks:

A producer told me (at the Austin Film Festival) that if I can’t get an agent, I should get a lawyer, so I won’t be an unsolicited writer. I have found some verification for this, but I’m not exactly sure how it works.

Do I still represent myself, or does the lawyer do it?

What are some guidelines for narrowing down the very long list of attorneys?

All of my work has placed in contests, and I have done a lot of work on it since then. I would like to approach producers without the routine snub (assuming that loglines, synopses, etc. are up to high standards).

So how does the “lawyer” thing work? — Thanks!

There are a number of myths floated by Hollywood insiders in order to stem the overwhelming deluge of unqualified (i.e. crappy) scripts. One is that producers do not accept unsolicited scripts because they fear potential liability. The other is that producers do accept unsolicited scripts from lawyers. The truth is, liability has nothing to do with it and producers do not accept unsolicited material from lawyers any more than from anyone else. Most producers only accept material based upon some indicia that considering it is worth there time.

Here’s how lawyers sometimes fit in. There are some lawyers in the entertainment field who build contacts and reputation just the way agents do. These lawyers can send scripts to companies because the companies know they will not ordinarily send crap. Even they do not send the material unsolicited. Rather, they attorney picks up the telephone and make a call to a development executive he or she knows. The attorney discusses your material and, if requested, sends it over. This is no different than what an agent does. Like an agent, this kind of submission is based upon personal relationships. By virtue of the attorney’s reputation, he or she has contacts in the industry. The trick for the writer is finding one of these lawyers as opposed to the many lawyers who are willing to “submit” your script, but still never get it read. Just having any attorney send an unsolicited script is essentially no more likely to get it read than sending it in yourself.

Because you have won some contests, some attorneys who do submit material may be willing to speak with you. Some of them tend to be a little more accessible than most agents. You will need to query them just as you would an agent. Or, better yet, get a referral. If you have the email of the producer you met in Austin, ask him for the names of some lawyers you should speak to. See if he will actually refer you. (It is much easier for a producer to refer a writer than to actually read a script.) Even if he will not, when you approach the lawyer, use the producer’s name as the basis for your contact.

Here’s where to be careful: you should not pay a lawyer to send in your script any more than you should pay an agent. Lawyers that actually do submit scripts charge in the same way agents do – that is, only if the script sells. The going rate is the same as an agent’s rate – 10%, although some attorneys charge more because they are acting as agent and lawyer for the writer. You should be careful to select a lawyer in the same way you would be careful to select an agent. (Producers do not accept scripts from unknown agents, either.)

The only exception to all of the above is in the occasional circumstance where a producer actually requests your material. The “liability” myth is so often repeated that even some producers believe it and, even when they agree to see your material (which happens because of some other connection – a recommendation from a film professor, a mutual acquaintance, a chance meeting at a film festival, etc.), they want a lawyer to submit it if you don’t have an agent. In that occasional circumstance, you can have any attorney that regularly represents writers send it in, even if the attorney is not known for submitting material.

Enough. Now go write….

Rick Springfield’s Writing One, Too

Rick Springfield
Photo by amy_b @ flickr.com
Former rock star, soap star and teen heartthrob Rick Springfield announces that he has some movie ideas he is developing and that “the next thing is (screen)writing for sure”. Maybe one of his ideas is about a guy who wishes he had his friend’s girlfriend and it leads to all kinds of funny/serious complications, but it all resolves in the end, and he has grown as a person. Or maybe it’s something else completely.

LEVERAGE YOUR SUCCESS

I’m an office lackey at a major film and television company in Toronto.

I have optioned my script to a local production company, and we have gotten a development deal with CTV. They have brought on a talented writer to head the writing (it was my first script and I am green) and I am in a consultant role.

I had some lawyer friends to help me ink the option agreement and there is a producer role in there for me. It’s a good deal.

My question is, should I get an agent at this point? I originally felt that because I negotiated the option deal, I didn’t want to give up 10% to an agent who did nothing toward it, but now I’m thinking, I should use this opportunity to get representation and move on. I may or may not be a player in this TV show. I’m totally green, and lucked out. I wrote a good script (my first) and it got a lot of people excited, but I want to keep the ball rolling.

Congratulations on getting your first deal. While every break has an element of luck, I’m glad you are not discounting your talent. You got a deal because your work inspired someone – in fact, it inspired a number of people.

With respect to the agent question, good news. If you get representation, you probably don’t have to pay ten percent on this deal. It is common (at least here in L.A.) to exclude deals obtained prior to the representation. You will need to read the agency agreement carefully (or have your lawyer do it for you) and may need to add some language specifically excluding this past deal, but it is ordinarily not a problem.

The bigger and more important point is, you should leverage every success towards your next successes. Right now, while you have heat on you, meet some agents. Everyone is interested in the new fresh voice. This is your moment to be that voice. If you meet a qualified agent who impresses you and sincerely believes in you, then you should accept representation. You should also look towards other ways of leveraging this success. If you have more pitches put together, get them in front of buyers as quickly as possible. Ride your present success into those pitches.

I hope this helps. Again, congratulations and good luck with the show.

P.S. Alex Epstein is very involved in Canadian television and is likely worth talking to.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

Michael Blake
Bruce Joel Rubin
Alfred Uhry
Christopher Hampton
Mark Peploe
Bernardo Bertolucci
John Patrick Shanley
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Kurt Luedtke
Earl W. Wallace
Peter Shaffer
Robert Benton
John Briley
Ernest Thompson
Colin Welland
Alvin Sargent
Bo Goldman
Steve Tesich
Nancy Dowd
Waldo Salt
Robert C. Jones
Alvin Sargent
Marshall Brickman
Lawrence Hauben
Frank Pierson
William Peter Blatty
David S. Ward
Jeremy Larner
Ernest Tidyman
Edmund H. North
James Goldman
Stirling Silliphant
William Rose
Robert Bolt
Claude Lelouch
Frederic Raphael
Edward Anhalt
S. H. Barnett
John Osborne
James R. Webb
Abby Mann
William Inge
Richard Brooks
Neil Paterson
Nedrick Young
Harold Jacob Smith
George Wells