Scriptwriting: Setting Up An Emotional Moment- WRITTEN BY HAL CROASMUN

Have you ever noticed that even though a great story has big moments, it is also filled with many small emotional moments?

As I watched “FOR LOVE OF THE GAME,” there was a small emotional moment in the story that surprised me. In the eighth inning, an outfielder catches a ball that would have gone over the wall and been a home run. Normally, you’d feel excitement or relief at something like that, but the feeling was deeper — more like redemption.

Why did we feel redemption? Because the writer set it up. Not the director, or actor, or producer, or even the studio. The writer designed that moment.

Naturally, I began searching for what caused that emotion. As always, my purpose is to discover the structure so you and I can duplicate the feat of turning a typical scene into a deep emotional one.

HERE’S THE STRUCTURE:

A. NEGATIVE:

A negative occurs that has an emotional impact on a character. It upsets, humiliates, embarrasses, exposes, etc. the character. Or it could even be a limitation that the character expresses as a positive. (You’ll see that in one of the PRETTY WOMAN examples below.) But first, the negative from FOR LOVE OF THE GAME:

The catcher laughs with Kevin Costner about how ESPN always plays the shot of Mickey Hart, an outfielder, who goes to the wall to catch a potential homerun, but the ball hits him on the head and bounces over the wall.

Then, we flashback and watch the painful event happen.

B. IMPACT:

The impact of the negative is shown.

In the locker room, Mickey is humiliated that this happened to him. He says to Kevin Costner “It will probably end up on ESPN.” Kevin gives him advice about not helping the media to make a fool out of him.

Obviously, they did make a fool out of him and that’s why the catcher is laughing about how they always play it on ESPN.

C. OVERCOMES IT:

The character overcomes the negative.

It’s the eighth inning, just when it looks like Kevin Costner is going to have a “perfect game” with no hits and no men on base, a long fly ball goes out to Mickey Hart’s wall. He runs to the wall, jumps and catches it just over the top of the wall.

D. IS RECOGNIZED:

Other characters recognize the change

Suddenly, other characters are shouting “We love you, Mickey Hart.” Kevin Costner nods at him in approval. And the man who was so humiliated is the one who saves the day.

There it is. We feel so glad that Mickey Hart has redeemed himself and that other players and the media are showing him respect again. Why? Because the emotion was designed into the setup. By humiliating Mickey Hart in the beginning, there was the chance to have a much more dramatic emotion when we redeemed him.

Now that I’ve recognized this structure, I realize it is in almost every movie I’ve seen. To prove my case, let me present five of the ten (or more) times it is in the movie PRETTY WOMAN. As you read through these, it will become more clear how this structure works and the absolute need for it.

Each one of these is designed to create an emotional experience for the audience and to cause a “believable change” in one or more characters.

 

From PRETTY WOMAN

1. “SHOPPING CAN BE SO HARD”

A. NEGATIVE:

Vivian is sent out on a mission to get some clothes for an upscale dinner. She finds a store on Rodeo Drive. Dressed in her hooker clothes, she goes in and instantly gets dirty looks. She finds a dress and asks how much it is.

But both of the stuck up clerks refuse to wait on her. Finally, they say, “I don’t think we have anything for you. You’re obviously in the wrong place. Please leave.”

B. IMPACT:

Humiliated, Vivian walks out. Now she knows that she doesn’t fit in. Upon return to the hotel, she is taken to the office by the Hotel manager and interrogated. Once again, humiliated.

C. OVERCOMES IT:

The hotel manager sets her up with Bridgette to get her a new dress.

D. IS RECOGNIZED:

When Edward comes in and sees her dressed like a lady for the first time, he stares. She says, “You’re late.” He responds, “You’re stunning.” She laughs; “You’re forgiven.”

There is a second time where recognition comes: After a day of shopping and being “sucked up to,” she returns to the first shop, dressed well and with shopping bags from big stores. She walks to the stuck up sales lady who refused to wait on her and says “Remember me? I was in here yesterday. You wouldn’t wait on me. You work on commission, right?… Big mistake. Huge. I have to go shopping now.” She walks out, leaving behind a confused salesperson.

 

2. “COME WITH ME, YOUNG LADY.”

A. NEGATIVE:

The Hotel manager spots Vivian coming in wearing her hooker  clothes and takes her into his office. He interrogates her and lets her know in no uncertain terms that when Edward is gone, she is not to come around the hotel again.

B. IMPACT:

Vivian is very upset. She has been treated badly by many people and is humiliated that she can’t get clothes to look the part. She begs for his help. She thinks he is calling the cops when he dials Bridgette to help her get clothes.

C. OVERCOMES IT:

He helps her with clothes and teaches her dinner manners. She tells him that he’s “cool.”

D. IS RECOGNIZED:

When she leaves, the manager kisses her hand and says “It’s been a pleasure knowing you. Come and visit us again some time.”

When Edward is checking out, the hotel manager looks at the jewels Edward has asked him to return to the jewelry store. He says, “Must be difficult to let go of something so beautiful.” Edward nods. “You know, Darrel also drove Miss Vivian home yesterday.”

 

3. “SHE’S A HOOKER.”

A. NEGATIVE:

Edward tells his attorney, Phil, that Vivian is a hooker, not a corporate spy who is trying to get information from him. Then Phil approaches Vivian and tells her he knows. Even tries to set up a date with her.

B. IMPACT:

Vivian is humiliated. She and Edward argue. She calls him an asshole and freaks out emotionally. They insult each other. She demands he pay her. He tosses the money on the bed.

C. OVERCOMES IT:

She leaves the room, but without the money. When he sees that she left the money, he comes out to the elevator and apologizes for real. He asks her to stay. Tells her he was jealous of her talking to another guy.

D. IS RECOGNIZED:

She chooses to stay and he starts treating her like a woman, instead of a hooker. From that point on, they interact like a couple. He says, “I think you are a very bright, very special woman.”

 

4. BREAKING UP COMPANIES

A. NEGATIVE:

Edward tells Vivian that he buys companies and breaks them up and sells the pieces for more than the cost of the whole. Vivian responds, “So it’s sort like stealing cars and selling them for parts.”

B. IMPACT:

Most of the business conflict is over Edward trying to take over Morris Industries and tear it apart. Mr. Morris, the 65-year-old says, “I’m sure you understand that I’m not thrilled with the idea of turning 40 years of my work into your garage sale…Leave my company alone.” As he is leaving, he says to Edward, “Watch out, Lewis. I’m going to tear you apart.”

Vivian recaps the evening and says, “The problem is, I think you like Mr. Morris.” She tells her philosophy on turning tricks. Edward says, “You and I are such similar creatures. We both screw people for money.”

C. OVERCOMES IT:

After a series of negotiations and hard ball moves, Edward neglects to call the bank and have a loan that Mr. Morris applied for canceled. Edward talks about how he used to play with blocks, building things, instead of tearing them apart.

In the final meeting, when Mr. Lewis gives in, Edward tells Mr. Morris that he has changed his mind about breaking his company apart. Instead, he wants to protect it and be partners with Mr Morris.

D. IS RECOGNIZED:

Mr. Morris compliments him: “I don’t know how to say this without sounding condescending, but…I’m proud of you.”

 

5. KISSING ON THE MOUTH

A. NEGATIVE:

Edward makes a light attempt to kiss Vivian, but she shuns him. When she’s about to have sex with him, she says “What do you want?” He says “What do you do?” She replies: “Everything, but I don’t kiss on the mouth.” They have sex, but no kissing.

She later tells him “Kit is always saying to me; don’t get emotional when you turn tricks. That’s why no kissing. It’s too personal.”

Then they have a sex scene on the piano where he tries to kiss her twice, but she refuses each advance.

B. IMPACT:

As long as they don’t kiss, they’re not really in a relationship.

C. OVERCOMES IT:

After having the “She’s a hooker” argument, he starts treating her like a person. They go to the opera on a “real date.” Upon returning, she kisses him and they make love for real.

D. IS RECOGNIZED:

At lunch with Kit, Vivian says “Edward asked me if I wanted to see him again, but I think not.” Kit says “Oh, no. I know this weepy look on your face. You fell in love with him, didn’t you?” Vivian denies it. Kit says “You fell in love with him. Did you kiss him on the mouth?” Vivian admits she did. They banter back and forth about whether the relationship could work out, but clearly, she is in love.

—————

WHAT TO DO?

Essentially, these are little vignettes that play out in your script. Most of them will be in the background of the real story. Some will be complete subplots, but others will blend into scenes in ways that are virtually unnoticeable.
 

If you are trying to create an emotional moment, look to see if it has been set up properly. If it hasn’t, then set it up to have the elements of this structure.

You could start with the event you want to be emotional. Let’s say you have a teenaged female character whose father asks her to drive. It’s not a very emotional moment in a story that is all about her first love. But let’s see if using this structure can give this one moment some emotion.

 

A. NEGATIVE:

Her brother is one year older and when he gets his learners permit, she watches her father gloat over what a good driver he is. But when it comes time for her to learn to drive, he tells her mother to teach her. The daughter takes that as evidence that her father doesn’t believe in her.

B. IMPACT:

She cries the whole time her mom is teaching her to drive. Once she has her driver’s license, she expects to drive with her father, but he hands the keys to the brother. More upset.

C. OVERCOMES IT:

She has an argument with her brother about who gets to drive. The dad overhears it. The next day, he has a special event downtown and hands her the keys. “I was hoping you’d drive me today.”

D. IS RECOGNIZED:

In the car, he tells her a secret. “You’re a much better at most things than your brother, so I kinda wanted to give him something to be proud of. I’m sorry that it hurt you.”

 

Okay, it’s not brilliant, but it shows that in about two minutes, you can elevate the emotion of an event just by setting it up well. And this vignette could be one of those that plays in the background as she struggles with her identity.

If you’ve ever had a moment that you thought should be emotional, but either wasn’t or it came off as corny, this may be the solution you need. You can keep the moment if you just set it up well.

Great dialogue is instrumental in raising the level of emotion in your scenes and setting them up well; There’s a great class for improving your dialogue in “Advanced Dialogue Screenwriting Class” that covers this and more. (Visit http://www.screenwritingu.com)

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