Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Two more bits on storytelling.

Billy Wilder, the great Austrian-American filmmaker won, I think, seven Academy Awards. He also had great movies in almost as many film genres, including film noir (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard), war (Five Graves to Cairo, Stalag 17), comedy (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment) and more. In short, he was quite a "storyteller."

Likewise, another of my favorites Preston Sturges was similarly acclaimed and prodigious. His string of eight movies in seven years from "The Great McGinty" to "Unfaithfully Yours" is an output that, I think will never be matched. He has four movies in the American Film Institute's Top 100 Comedies.

Anyhoo, as they say in the Midwest to my great disdain, here are Wilder's and Sturges' rules on storytelling.

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

1. A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.
2. A leg is better than an arm.
3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
4. An arrival is better than a departure.
5. A birth is better than a death.
6. A chase is better than a chat.
7. A dog is better than a landscape.
8. A kitten is better than a dog.
9. A baby is better than a kitten.
10. A kiss is better than a baby.
11. A pratfall is better than anything.

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