How To Write A Mediocre Screenplay by Chapman University Professor Paul Joseph Gulino

Film Courage: If we took a not so great or a mediocre bland screenplay and we put it on the same table and disassembled it we would see not enough conflict and then we would see…well this is sort of a bad term but emotional manipulation within the story because you are saying that the audience (these readers) they want these clues? They don’t want to be given the information?

Paul Joseph Gulino, Associate Professor at Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts: Right. Well as they say there are many more ways of being sick than there are healthy.

Film Courage: That’s true.

Paul: So if we read a script that doesn’t quite work for us then obviously the issues are manifold. What kind of mistakes we make like with my students…my students are brilliant and they hardly ever make mistakes but let’s just say there is that outlier once in a while. There’s a tendency (in no particular order) and I see it in feature films…there tends to be a misunderstanding in the scheme that I’m talking about. What does it mean to have the end of the second act? It’s drummed into a lot of them that this is the low point, the kind of all is lost moment or everything is hopeless and everything has to get really, really bad and it’s not necessarily so. It depends on what your story actually is.

The end of the second act is where the question is answered but in the third it’s resolved, but preferably in a way that turns the story into something deeper.

Miloš Forman (when I studied with Miloš Forman in the Columbia days) said that in a standard classic feature with drama the audience usually has two possibilities, the person gets it or they don’t. So let’s say it’s hypothesis A or hypothesis B. We hope for hypothesis A, we are afraid it’s going to be hypothesis B. But the audience isn’t satisfied if the third act is either A or B. It’s got to be C. It’s got to be something that transforms the way in which we are not aware of, a deeper meaning of the story.

And that’s really what the function of the third act is. We often feel like in the classic formulation that I think most people go by when they are trying to write a script, the character wants…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).




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