The Long Shadows
So, here we are, three years on from the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and on the eve of a Presidential election defined by what we have done in response. Given the record, it is clear that if the election were to be based on a rational decision, Kerry would win in a landslide. Unfortunately, however, the decision will be based largely on emotional responses as well. While liberals are driven to fits of aggravation over this, this is the aspect of the election that Bush understands the best and where he has the advantage.
Paul Krugman had an excellent column
this week on the mythic reality underlying this election. This is an area that Kerry and the Democrats have neglected to their peril. In this campaign, the mythic terms and Jungian archetypes are almost as important as the policy proposals. Presidents Clinton was a master of speaking to the American myths. Senator Hillary Clinton is smart enough to recognize the need to speak to citizens on such mythic terms even though it is not her usual approach. She is not a master, but she makes the effort.
I am concerned that Kerry doesn’t get this. Recently, the chief question that I have gotten from likely Democratic voters is that they do not have a sense of who Kerry is. They have not heard enough about what he has done in the Senate and about what is offering for the four years ahead. These concerns go to the emotional heart and to the American myths of progress and of our place in the world. Those concerns will be the focal points of this election. Back in December and January when Dean was looking like the runaway favorite and Kerry’s campaign was in disarray, Kerry stepped up, spoke to the voters’ concerns, and turned his campaign around. Let us all hope that Kerry gets to the emotional heart of this election in time.
This summer, I had the opportunity to read more than 100 scripts as a first round reader for the Austin Film Festival
. It was an interesting and educational experience that demonstrated the truths behind many of the screenwriting rules that I have heard and that provided me with several useful insights on themes and styles. Here then are few of the tips that I learned from my reading:
• The First Act is Critical. The first 25-30 pages are key. You have got to grab and hold the readers attention. When a reader is sitting there with a stack of 10-25 scripts to read, you have got to give them a reason to keep turning the pages. It is amazing how many scripts have weak first acts. On the good scripts, I would look up around page 35 without having counted the pages. On the really bad scripts, around page 10, I would begin looking for page 30, where I could stop reading. I can imagine that this reaction is even more extreme for professional readers and agents who are reading scripts all the time.
• In Media Res. Start as close to the inciting incident as possible. Long buildups, changes in location and time, and introducing numerous characters are just opportunities to lose the reader. You have got to begin with action that introduces your principal character and that draws the reader into the story.
• Comedy is Hard. If you think that the world needs another Ben Stiller nebbish comedy, think again. Fresh, funny scripts are hard to find, but they are out there. It can be a fine balance between a screwball comedy and silly, sophomoric jokes that we have seen a thousand times before, but it can be done. A good comedy can be based on ancient setups, it just needs to get to the emotional core of the character relationships.
• Wood Guthrie wrote about B-E-E-T-S not B-E-A-T-S. I don’t like the use of beats to mark pauses in dialogue. This is a common practice, but I see a beat as a wasted opportunity. Breakup the dialogue by describing the scene. What is the character doing during the pause? What are the other characters doing?