I see what you did there, Mr. Kasdan

Marion Ravenwood
A handful of lines + a solid right hook = insight into 2 key characters

Of all the notes I’ve received about my western, the ones that really stood out the most were about developing the characters a little more – especially the titular protagonist.

I’ve also been spending some time reading, watching and analyzing the scripts and films that influenced it. Namely, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (along with its sequels) and a few others involving female leads who kick ass.

It’s a great opportunity to explore what makes a character tick. A lot’s been written about the “exposition without being blatantly expository” scene in RAIDERS with Indy and the government men, but I’ve been paying more attention to other scenes; the ones that offer up a bit more about what kind of person Dr Jones is as seen through his interactions with other characters.

-Indy discussing with Marcus the implications of finding the Ark.

-The reunion with Marion (see photo above)

-The encounter with Belloq in the cafe in Cairo.

All of these (and a few more) present an aspect of Indy’s character WHILE ALSO advancing the plot. It takes a lot of effort to do that and do it well.

I’ve also been working my way through the infamous story conference transcript, where Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan work out the story based on Lucas’ idea of a “swashbuckling archaeologist”. While you can easily find the memo itself, check out this phenomenal post that also analyzes some key points of what’s being discussed.

A lot of this is what I’ve been focusing on during this rewrite. More than a few of my notes highlight certain scenes and say something like “This would be a great place to show us more about her.” So that’s part of what I’ve been trying to do.

I originally thought it would be really tough to implement those kinds of changes, but using RAIDERS et al as guidelines and knowing my objectives for each scene, it actually hasn’t been as challenging. Sometimes all it requires is a few extra lines of dialogue or a modified action line. It’s not always easy, but it definitely feels a little less daunting. Also helping – working on one scene at a time.

In the meantime, progress on the rewrite/polish continues at a healthy pace and I really like how this new draft is shaping up. I suspect the end result will be a little more than just slightly different from previous ones, and hopefully the changes will really take the script to the next level.

What happened to the action movie?

Often imitated, rarely equaled
Often imitated, rarely equaled

A little over a week ago, a friend posted the following question on Facebook – “Is RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK the best action movie of all time?”

As would be expected, this led to a somewhat lengthy discussion. Several other titles were bandied about (DIE HARD, ALIENS, several John Woo HK films), and was summarized quite succinctly with “The main lesson here is that the 80s were a goldmine for high-quality action films.” (mea culpa – I’m the one who said it).

All I can think of for the 90s are TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY and SPEED.

While you’re thinking about those, compare them to some more recent ones, such as:
-THE EXPENDABLES – a nostalgic remembering of the genre itself
-THE EXPENDABLES 2 – silly, over the top parody
-PACIFIC RIM – cool to look at, but that’s about it
-FAST & FURIOUS 6 – haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it
-THE LONE RANGER – couldn’t bring myself to see it, but will catch it on home video. Is it as bad as they say?

Now there’s this. Oy. Someday I’ll discuss how much I dislike reboots.

So why do action films from 20-30 years ago still hold up?

Looking at strong examples of the genre, they all have: Original stories. Smart writing. Three-dimensional characters. Action that enhances and supports the story.

If you’re writing an action spec, these should be your goals and objectives. Yes, it’s a lot of fun to blow shit up, but don’t use an explosion or shootout just for the sake of having one. It’s pointless.

Make the action part of the story, not what the story’s about. Use it to move things forward. Ratchet up the tension and create more conflict for your hero.

Need a refresher course in how it’s done? Pick one you’ve always liked, and watch it as a writer. Take notes. See how it all fits together. Then see if any of it can be applied to your story and rewrite accordingly.

If only all learning could be this enjoyable.