January 8, 2012

Thrillers on Scriptchat

Roll up, roll up, and welcome to the latest session of Screenwriters Anonymous, where the screenfreaks and word geeks dwell. Today's confessional is about THRILLERS. It should be... thrilling*
(*no responsibility will be taken for dad-grade puns)

This is a bit of a long one, but pure gold if you're getting into the lucrative and exciting field of writing thriller films. Enjoy the knowledge!

THRILLERS 4th December 2011

* Thrillers were well-repped in 2011 sales. Thrillers and comedies were the big spec sellers.
* They are the only movies than can look dirt cheap and make millions.
* Thrillers work ‘cos sets and props are relatable to our real lives.
* They are more action-oriented and often more violent than straight suspense.
* Competency of Main Character is important. In horror, the MC is unprepared. In a thriller, they are better equipped to face the situation.
* Increase intensity with each scene.
* Thrillers are usually more about plot than character.
* Spec thrillers too often focussed on characters and become drama. It’s a difficult genre to balance.
* Thrillers are more about feeling the plot twists than thinking them. You don’t want your audience cerebral, you want to take them along for the ride.
* Suspense is more passive, thriller more active.
* A story about avoiding a bomb blast = suspense. A story about diffusing a bomb = thriller. Getting chased = suspense. Chasing = thriller.
* A good thriller is more story, less gory. Implied is more powerful than shown (see the end of Se7en). Thrillers don’t rely on special effects – they rely on the audience’s imagination.
* Stakes. Conflict. Tension. Power on both sides (hero’s side and villain’s side).
* Natural dialogue, relatable characters.
* Keep ‘em guessing, hide your misdirection. TWISTS!
* Have a dramatic question to frame each sequence, along with an overarching dramatic question for the film.
* A good thriller just stops short of revealing too much in each scene, Each scene builds like a house of cards to the finale.
* The opponent preys on the hero’s psychological weaknesses, big-time.
* A good Main Character is one you never quite trust. Are they good or bad? It creates a great guessing game. Look at Leo’s character in Shutter Island.
* Allow the audience to share a secret with the protagonist. When the protag. conceals or lies, the audience is complicit. Shutter Island is filled with great examples of this.
* Main Character must have doubt in themselves.
* A good thriller will pass ‘the piss test’ – the film should make you need to pee (but dare not leave the screen). Don’t give the audience any chance to go to the toilet.
* A solid Main Character has a clear goal, and the ability to follow a string of actions to achieve it. They use their flaws as an advantage.
* The hero must be smart, but the villain must be smarter.
* Most thrillers are justice vs. injustice.
* The best thrillers save some innocent victims, and punish the smart people. Mercy then mercilessness. A glimpse of order in the universe, that the good will be saved, only to be dashed violently, and chaos returned.
* Leave your viewers with new questions as you answer old ones.
* Thriller recommendations: Zodiac, Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hot Fuzz, Sneakers, The Game, Stakeout.
* Other recommendations: Documentary – ‘Terror in the Aisles’.

That's all for today, folks. Next time I'll feed you the hot bites from the comedy Scriptchat starring writer John Vorhaus (Married With Children). Delicious.

Screenwriters Anonymous - for people who have worse carpal tunnel than professional fluffers.

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