Archive for January, 2012

Dolphin Tale vs. Soul Surfer

January 31, 2012

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it odd that there were two films last year about amputees in aquatic settings? Both based on true stories, and both aimed at a PG/family film audience. Neither one manages to climb above sentimentality, but both did well at the BO and are still selling to the masses in the home market. There must be something about losing a limb in the water, so maybe it’s worth thinking about for a minute.

DOLPHIN TALE is a nicely structured script that weaves together the story of a boy who heals his father-loss wounds through the act of helping to heal a maimed dolphin with the secondary tale of his cousin, a champion swimmer who comes back from the war without the use of his legs. In this story, a prosthetic is ultimately designed by Morgan Freeman’s character that allows the dolphin to swim again.  I loved the casting and the gentle interplay of storylines in this movie. I laughed and cried and enjoyed the ride even though I was never really surprised.

SOUL SURFER tells the story of a teenage girl on the pro surfing circuit who loses her arm to a shark and decides that she will keep on surfing and competing anyway. She is offered a prosthetic, but decides against it, choosing instead to re-learn how to surf with only one arm. Through sheer determination and many lopsided push-ups, plus a bit of retooling of her board by dad, played by Dennis Quaid, she barrels her way to the top again.

Both of these scripts, especially Soul Surfer, tend to “water down” the subject matter and neither one presents the concept of loss in all of its true complexity. But there is still something they can teach us. And it’s more than just the healing powers of love, although both films do a nice job of getting that message across, too.

Prosthetic or no prosthetic, the situation writers can take away from these stories remains the same: crafting a great script means making our hero lose the very thing they need in order to get what they want. For true story screenwriters, this is a wake-up call. If you concentrate on true loss in your true story, taking away whatever it is they want and sometimes everything they need as well, your audience will be captivated.

For more insights into the adaptions of these true stories, click on the links for each film above.


J. Edgar Doesn’t Quite Mesh

January 19, 2012

Saw Hollywood’s latest biopic the other day: J. Edgar. Hmmm. I guess aside from the obviousness of the makeup and the slightly melodramatic performances (sorry, Clint), it was pretty well done. The structure is classic Hollywood formula, but with a twist. We are shown the rise and fall of Hoover’s career, but these scenes are framed and interspersed with glimpses of the end of his life, using the specific framing device of a manuscript being written about it all. Structurally, it worked, but I’m still not sure what the point was, other than rendering his homosexuality with grace and elegance.

One thing that impressed me was the interweaving of historical fact with personal narrative. What we can take away from this film, both as viewers and as true story screenwriters, is the importance of portraying a historical figure in the context of his society. A screen story always ultimately comes down to just one person, a main character who wants something. But the simultaneous development of historical fact in this script – the Lindberg baby, Al Capone, Nixon, et. al – not only adds texture, but also shows Hoover (Leo DiCaprio) as a product of his environment, and suggests that the societal pressures of communist threats, gangsters, and kidnappers all combined to force the creation of a crusader.

While the shape of the plot helps to infuse Hoover’s story with the history that helped shape him, the theme (the new evils of society making it necessary for a crusader) is nearly invisible. A big film like this one will often carry its message tucked between what the character wants and what they need. What Hoover wants is to stamp out the criminal element and make America safe again. As for what he needs, as the song goes, he needs to be needed. I guess the problem with this story is that what he wants and what he needs really never intersect or mesh in any way. So we are left with two separate stories, rather than one coherent whole. But then again, maybe that disconnect is a good fit for this man, whose public persona and private life were about as far apart as they could be.

Come with a Concept, Leave with a Logline

January 5, 2012

And now…let’s pause for a word from our sponsor:

Shaping True Story into Screenplay Workshop:
Come with a Concept, Leave with a Logline
4-Hour Workshop in Venice, CA
Sunday, February 19, 2012 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Only $40.00 with advance registration!

From THE KILLING FIELDS to THE SOCIAL NETWORK. From APOLLO 13 to 127 HOURS. From THE AVIATOR to THE FIGHTER. Films based on true stories have been entertaining audiences and wowing critics for decades.

Many people have a true story they think would make a great movie. But not everyone can execute the screenplay. The trick is to get beyond the facts of what happened and find the larger, emotional truth of the story. The goal is to capture the dramatic essence of reality and transform it into art.

Shaping True Story into Screenplay Workshop:
Come with a Concept, Leave with a Logline

We all know that a crisp and catchy logline can be a significant boon to pitching and shopping your screenplay to agents, actors, directors and producers. But a well-thought out logline can also help you write a great screenplay.

Whether you’ve written just one page or 120, this workshop will show you how to focus your autobiographical or biographical idea into its own unique dramatic structure. You’ll take home the tools to keep you on track as you write, revise and market the screenplay.

The workshop will cover:

• Finding the metaphor of your personal journey

• Translating real life into dramatic action

• Developing engaging characters from real people

• Shaping the plot along a story spine

• Choosing what to leave out in the interest of story

Join us to discover new ways to shape the nebulous clay that is real life into cinematic pages. Start with an idea and end with a solid logline and a vision for your story.


Sunday, February 19, 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice, CA 90291

“Shaping True Story into Screenplay is a clear and accessible guide that turns the basics of screenwriting toward the task of telling one’s true story.”

– Mitchell Levin, Senior Story Analyst, DreamWorks
“The book offers how to plot, build characters, pace conflicts of real life, invent a frame to propel the story, and create scenes that are metaphors for real events. Her gift of simplicity and personal humility is given to all who wish to share a true story. The book is easy to process, inspiring and encouraging. It is like having a personal coach along the way.”

– City and Mountain Views, Denver, Colorado

“Candace Kearns Read has a knack for whipping a weak script into shape. She is tough, but in the kindest way. This book will be an invaluable resource to all writers and directors.”

– Jeff Woolnough (Director, OUTER LIMITS, THE DON CHERRY STORY and CELINE)

“Having relied on Candace’s instincts, judgment, and clarity, I can testify that she is the absolute best, and consider Shaping True Story Into Screenplay a great gift. So will anyone who reads it.”

– Robert Palmer (Manager of Anthony Hopkins, Faye Dunaway, and Dick Van Dyke)

“Candace Kearns Read is an extremely talented screenwriter and story analyst. Anyone intending to develop material based on ‘real life’ will benefit from the wisdom and experience found within these pages.”

– Ben Press (Buchwald/Fortitude Agency)

“Candace is a highly regarded script analyst and writer. Top agents in Hollywood wouldn’t let their A-list clients make a move on a script until Candace signed off on it with her insightful, smart and savvy analysis. In this book, Candace impeccably shares her great skill and creativity to help screenwriters, and expertly enables you to develop your greatest possession into a compelling screenplay, by guiding you to write what you know best: Yourself.”

– Tony Greco, Screenwriters Online

Cost: $40.00 in advance, $45.00 at the door
** Workshop fee includes a copy of the book Shaping True Story into Screenplay

To Register: Click Here

If you know someone who might benefit from this workshop, please forward this e-mail.

Shaping True Story into Screenplay
Candace Kearns Read, MFA