Regular readers of this blog will remember this post where I reviewed the book “Writing Drama” by Yves Lavandier. As anyone who knows me knows, I usually have little time for scriptwriting books since their assertions and formulas largely do my nut, but I REALLY enjoyed Writing Drama because it takes away all the guff and explores the nature of what creates good DRAMA (not scripts!). Here’s a Q&A I did with Yves last week. Enjoy!
When does drama become melodrama in your view?
When it accumulates external obstacles and ill-fortune. I agree with George Bernard Shaw when he says that crime and disease are not interesting. What’s interesting is when obstacles are a matter of the protagonist’s personal responsibility. In real life, we all have to deal with obstacles. Every single day of our lives. Some are crime-related, some are diseases, but most lie in ourselves and not in our stars.
In your book you call dialogue an “over valued resource”: why do you suppose so many spec writers believe it is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of a script?
I find it hard to believe that so many writers consider dialogue as the most important aspect of a script. Script readers and decision makers, yes, probably. But writers… People who know writing from the inside… You just need to write a couple of scripts by relying mainly on dialogue and you’ll soon discover it’s a failure. Even in the theater, it’s a huge mistake to think that plays tell a story through dialogue. Plays also, and primarily, rely on structure, characterisation and images. Let me remind that the word “theater” comes from the Greek word “theastai” which means “watch”. Anyhow, I can see two paramount reasons for cherishing dialogue. For one, dialogue is the most obvious part of drama. Humans tend to forget that the essantial is invisible to the eye and inaudible to the ear. Dialogue is the emerged part of the drama iceberg. For two, of all narrative tools, dialogue is the easiest one to produce. You just need to know how to talk.
If dialogue is over valued, then which element of a screenplay do you feel is undervalued? Why?
Structure. And when I say “structure”, I don’t only mean three acts, an inciting incident and a climax. I also mean more invisible but more effective tools. Mainly everything that deals with preparation. There is a tendancy to reduce preparation to planting and payoff. Preparation is much more than that. When you make your protagonist’s objective known to the audience, you do advertising. When you create cause-effect relationships, you structure your work. Unity, preparation and dramatic irony are great tools to structure a script. I love the following example from “Romeo and Juliet”.
In Act V, scene 3, Romeo commits suicide. This scene, taken independently of its context, conveys a certain volume of information, mainly that Romeo is killing himself next to Juliet’s corpse in order to join her in death. If we now take the context into account, ie. if we give due consideration to what we have learned in Act IV, scene 3, where Juliet drinks a sleeping potion that will enable her to pretend to be dead, two additional pieces of information become apparent: the body beside Romeo is not a corpse, and his suicide is a tragic mistake. Obviously these major pieces of information are not conveyed by dialogue. They are not contained in V/3, and even less so in IV/3, but reside in the fact that one scene comes after the other. This is an example of important meaning created by structure. Try telling the same thing with dialogue.
There’s much snobbery when it comes to liking films and certain genres. In your book you reference all kinds of movies, from such classics as Some Like It Hot through to Die Hard 2. Some might say the latter there is automatically inferior to the former, being a sequel and being an action movie. What would you say to those people?
For a number of reasons, I enjoy “Some Like It Hot” much more than “Die Hard 2”. Still there is, in “Die Hard 2”, a great scene with probably one of the biggest physical obstacles ever. Everyone can learn from it, even those who’d rather write films like “Some Like It Hot”. Let’s take another example. When it comes to urgency, we all have images from action-packed Hollywood movies which start the clock more often than once. Well, the climax of a beautiful intimist Iranian film called “Where’s the Friend’s Home?” is a great urgency scene. Technically, the principles are exactly the same as in “Speed”, “Total Recall” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”.
In other words, don’t bother about the reputation of such and such work. Learn from its craftmanship and do what you feel with it. You can find gold nuggets in exploitative arts. And you can use Hollywoodish tools to make human stories. I often tell European intellectuals that sequels, cliffhangers, remakes, happy endings existed way before “Rocky”. They can be found in the Greek theater.
PART TWO: Yves Lavandier on Script Reading, Philosophy and “Gurus”
Buy “Writing Drama” here.
Read sample chapters of the book here.