Has the exceptional Sheridan written yet another great TV show?
Genre: TV 1 Hour Drama
Premise: Tommy works as a “fixer” for the oil companies in booming West Texas, where there’s a new problem gumming up the pipelines every day.
About: Taylor Sheridan is back with yet ANOTHER show, this one to star Billy Bob Thorton. The show is based on a successful podcast called “Boomtown,” which examines West Texas’s oil “boomtowns.” There is some confusion as to whether it’s a Yellowstone spinoff. Some say yes. Others say no. I guess we’ll have to wait until the show airs in 2024 to find out. And, of course, the show will be on Paramount Plus.
Writer: Taylor Sheridan (based on the podcast by Christian Wallace)
Details: 51 pages
I don’t think anyone in history has had this many shows produced in this amount of time. Maybe Darren Starr? I guess there’s no point in stopping. If they’re going to greenlight everything you write, just keep going. Let’s try to get 50 shows on this Paramount network.
My mind always goes to money on these things. If you have one hit show, that’s worth 8 figures over the course of your life. If you have two, do the math. Three? Four? Now you’re starting to approach 9-figure territory.
So what’s Taylor Sheridan’s secret? I would love to know. I wouldn’t mind having a hit show on TV. Let’s see if we can find out together after reading… Land Man.
The most American name ever, Tommy Norris, is 55 years old and a fixer for the oil companies in West Texas. When we meet him, he’s been dragged to a remote location where he has a meeting with a cartel kingpin, all while wearing a bag on his head so he doesn’t see the guy.
The kingpin wants to know how these land rights work. Cause, as far as he knows, he owns this land. But Tommy explains to the guy that he only owns the top of the land. Tommy’s employers, the oil tycoons, they own what is underneath the land. And, therefore, they are ultimately in charge of how the rules are made.
After getting out of that situation with only a black eye, Tommy is informed of a snafu in a nearby township. A drug plane landed on a remote road where they quickly unloaded their cocaine onto a coordinating van. But because they were set up just over a hill, they didn’t see an oil-truck scream over the top of the hill before it crashed into them, blowing everybody up.
Tommy now has to figure out how he’s going to navigate that issue.
As he’s putting together a plan, his ex-wife calls and reminds him that he has to take their 17 year old daughter, Ainsley, for the weekend. Ainsely is a bit of… let’s just say that if her parents don’t watch out, she’s going to end up in porn. So she needs a lot of attention.
Unfortunately, when Ainsley shows up, she does so with her new Top 50 football recruit Greek God of a boyfriend, Dakota. And now Tommy has to keep his eyes on both of them. While this is happening, little does Tommy (or Ainsley, or his ex-wife) know, that his 22 year old son, who just got a job as an oil rig mechanic, is involved in a giant explosion after a malfunction. Whether he’s okay or not will be left a mystery until…. Episode 2.
I have one question for you. Is Taylor Sheridan screenwriting Superman?
This guy is so talented. I don’t know where in the millions of pilots he’s written he fit this one in. But if this is one of his many “belt-it-out-in-a-week” scripts, I don’t know how he does it. Because, normally, the problems you associate with rushed writing are a lack of specificity. A sloppy plot. Thin characters.
That isn’t the case here.
Right off the bat, we get this highly specific monologue. This is Tommy explaining the land deal to the cartel people:
“First they’ll hire Halliburton to build files on you f—king assholes the FBI dreams about having, then they’ll send thirty tier one operators from Triple Canopy to bust you like fucking pinatas. And if any of you dipshits make it back to Mexico they will blow up your house with a drone. While your family is in it. … It costs about six million to put in a new well, they’re putting 800 of them right fucking here … That’s 4.8 Billion in pump jacks. They’ll spend another billion on water, housing, and trucking. At an average of 78 dollars a barrel they will make 6.4 Million dollars a day. For the next fifty fucking years. The oil company is coming. No matter what.”
I call this the Gollum Effect. Peter Jackson famously put 70% of the CGI focus on Gollum’s very first scene because he knew if he could convince you in that moment that Gollum was real, it wouldn’t matter, later on, if his special effects got fuzzy. You’d already bought in.
Same thing here. By being highly specific about this world right away, we immediately buy into it. So even if some of that specificity becomes more generalized later on, we’ve already bought in. But the thing with Sheridan is that he keeps the specificity going! Which is so noble because it’s so hard to do. Unless you know these details inherently, you have to go look them up then figure out how to craft them into a convincing monologue. That takes research time and rewriting time, since monologues never work on their first go. Yet here he is, able to do this in record time. It’s amazing.
Another thing I love about this pilot is the contrast. Technically this isn’t a high concept idea. It does feel larger than life since so much money is involved. But it’s not a splashy idea by any means.
But one way you can combat that in TV is to create an enormous contrast in the worlds your main character has to deal with. Remember Alias? On that show, the main character had to deal with this extreme spy world only to go back home and deal with everyday life, like frustrated boyfriends.
That contrast works as a powerful engine for storytelling because we can’t believe someone who’s just had to kill a person now has to patch things up with their best friend who’s mad cause she didn’t come to her birthday party.
Same thing here. The opening scene shows us how dangerous Tommy’s job is. He has to have one-on-one meetings with insane cartel leaders because they operate on the same land that he’s drilling under.
But then he has to go back home where his firecracker of a 17 year old hormones-on-overdrive daughter is ready to bang anything in sight. And now he has to figure out how to deal with that, both internally and externally. That contrast really made this pilot pop.
Sheridan also understands the little tricks of the trade to keep the reader interested. A great dramatic device to use is first setting up a certainty. You say: X IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Then you make sure that when X arrives, it arrives with a complication, Y. In other words, nothing should ever be certain in dramatic writing. Things should always be happening that weren’t in the plans.
In this case, Tommy’s ex-wife calls and says that their daughter is coming to stay with him this weekend because she’s going on vacation. He didn’t know this and tries to get out of it. “She 17. She’ll be fine home alone.” She then shows Tommy a picture of Ainsley’s new boyfriend, who looks like he’s going to bed every woman in Texas and says, if Ainsley stays at home by herself, these two will have 72 hours by themselves, and who knows what could come out of that. So Tommy agrees and flies Ainsley in.
Except, the second Ainsley walks off the plane, we see the boyfriend emerge behind her. This is the complication (the “Y” in the equation). The boyfriend is going to be staying with Tommy as well. These kind of dramatic reveals are especially important in television, which is character-based. A lot of the creative choices you’re going to be making in TV revolve around character. So this is definitely a tool you want in your tool shed.
Everything I just mentioned, I enjoyed. But if that wasn’t enough, you also have this mystery of this plane-truck-van collision that happened. How is that going to play out? That’s a good lesson as well. Throw a mystery into your pilot. It’s one more reason that we have to tune into episode 2.
The only thing I’m confused about when it comes to Sheridan is the length of his pilots. Most of the pilots I’ve read from him hover around the 50 page mark. I’m not sure why he does that. Because I wouldn’t mind 10 more pages here. The plot does feel a teensy bit light. Since TV is all about character, you can always stuff one more character plotline in your pilot and build that character up.
Maybe it’s something Paramount requests. I don’t know.
Either way, this was a really good pilot. This guy is one of the best screenwriters working today.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: As we’ve discussed before, you can tell a good writer by the way he writes descriptions. Look no further than this character description of Tommy’s ex-wife…
Hard to say how old Angela is, she commits most of her existence to keeping that a complete mystery.
Deductive reasoning puts her well into her forties — fifties even, but good hair, better skin, a great boob job and one hell of a personal trainer make us doubt the math.
I am so enormously overworked at the moment that I am unable to formulate a post today. It hurts just placing my fingers on the keys. So I asked an old friend of mine how to sell a script and this is what he said.
Premise: In order to clear his name and re-enter the Order, John Wick will have to take on the guy at the top of the program’s pyramid, the psycho, Marquis Vincent de Gramont.
About: The John Wick franchise had its biggest weekend ever, scoring 73 million bucks. This means that if you were betting on the “more money than kills” wager circulating around Las Vegas, you’d be short about 20 million, as Wick killed nearly 100 million people in this movie. Director Chad Stahelski swears this is the last John Wick film. “American Assassin” screenwriter Michael Finch teamed up with Shay Hatten to write it.
Writer: Shay Hatten and Michael Finch (based on characters by Derek Kolstad)
Details: 2 hours and 50 minutes long (no seriously!)
Are movies back??
Has the answer, all along, been to just ‘dude’ it up?
Hollywood has bent over backwards these past five years to de-masculinize the moviegoing experience. “Terminate the testosterone” was the operating slogan. If you wrote a script without a prominent female character, the studio would toss it then euthanize you, not necessarily in that order.
Well, it turns out that when you give your core audience what they want, as opposed to try and make a movie for everyone, you signal yourself as a flick that knows what it is and celebrates that.
John Wick 4 is a movie where you go get your dude friends, you head to Taco Bell, you buy a bag of taco carnage. You hide all the tacos in your pockets. Then you head into the theater and have John Wick Taco Time. 69% percent of the audience who saw this flick were dudes.
So which was better, the tacos or the movie?
The plot breaks down like so. The captain of all the Continental Hotels, Marquis, who lives in France, tells the New York Continental manager, Winston, that his hotel is no longer in operation since he failed to kill John Wick in the previous movie. He then blows the hotel up.
Marquis then force-hires this guy named Caine, who’s blind, and was once the best assassin in the world, and tells him to kill John Wick. Cut to Japan, where John Wick visits his old friend, Shimazu, who runs the Japanese Continental (it’s like White Lotus! Even Jennifer Coolidge was there!). Caine and his team descend upon this hotel which results in an outright war.
John Wick escapes and, after a side quest where John has to reclaim his name or something, Wick enacts prima nocta, whereby Marquis must battle him in a duel. If John wins, he’s back in good standing again. Marquis is a fan of Amelie so he sets up the duel at Sacre Couer. Marquis then swaps himself out for Caine. And then… well and then we have our shocking ending.
I don’t know if I have ever, in my life, seen a bigger gap between the quality of a script and the quality of a production. The screenwriting here is so bad. Yet the direction is so good. How do I reconcile this madness???
I suppose, if we’re being honest, the John Wick franchise was never about the writing. It is about a guy who goes after the Russian mob because they killed his dog. I’ve met third graders with better starting points for stories. Instead, the series focuses on its icy cool directing style and the “gun-fu,” which has risen to all new heights in John Wick 4, whereby somehow people are able to withstand 15 shots to the gut before they die.
Pretty much nothing makes sense in this movie. There is a team of people who monitor assassinations who have an office that takes up an entire floor OF THE EIFFEL TOWER. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Eiffel Tower but there are no private floors.
Therefore, this group of people are doling out 25 million dollar hits in front of anyone with a pair of binoculars. And, oh yeah, this office is run by 1950s pin-up cosplayers who ARE AMERICAN. So I guess France rents out a see-through office in the Eiffel Tower to American cosplaying assassins. Sure. Why not?
Or this was my favorite part. At the beginning of the movie, John Wick is hanging out in an abandoned underground subway when Lawrence Fishburne shows up with a freshly dry-cleaned suit for him, then proceeds to light a match and ignite a pre-arranged fire triangle on the ground that has ABSOLUTELY ZERO PURPOSE. Literally nobody benefits from this triangle of fire. And yet there it is.
But wait, there’s more! There is a fight to the death that takes place IN THE MIDDLE OF A CLUB. And everyone just keeps dancing! Two guys pummeling each other into a bloody pulp and no one bats an eye. At one point, after John Wick had fallen off a 40 foot railing, some guy two feet from him was more concerned about his twerking technique than checking to see if John Wick was okay.
One would think this would place John Wick 4 squarely into the “crap” category, which is so bad that it needs to pass special arbitration rules to even be included in a Scriptshadow review. But that wasn’t the case.
There’s something undeniably special about the production value of this movie. It joins the ranks of James Bond and Mission Impossible of showing us just how magical an experience REALNESS has on a film.
Every. Single. Location is stunning. The framing of every shot is beautiful. The production design is second-to-none. The costuming is excellent. The cinematography is so good.
Even when the set dressing is cliche, it’s done so much better than everyone else’s version of it, that it still leaves an impression on you. For example, John Wick walks into a church and every single candle in the place is lit. Seen it a million times. But it was done on so much steroids here that your jaw was on the floor.
There was a moment, though, that exposed this practice. I don’t even remember who was in the scene. I think maybe Marquis and Winston. The scene was pure exposition. It was there to set up *what needed to happen next*. It was so nuts and bolts plot exposition that Stahelski decided to set it inside a gigantic equestrian practice barn. As our characters work out the plot, these equestrian riders, for no purpose whatsoever, start riding around our two characters as they converse.
Make no mistake, it made for a visually interesting conversation. But when you’re going to these lengths to hide the fact that your dialogue is boring, you’re doing it the wrong way. What you want to do is find a dramatically interesting scenario that you can use as a vessel to hide your exposition.
For example, there’s an earlier scene where a “tracker” who claims to be able to find John Wick, comes to the Marquis to negotiate a contract. In that scene, there’s something dramatic going on – a negotiation. Both men have big egos. Neither likes the others’ terms. As a result, the negotiation escalates quickly. All of this while exposition is being given (their discussion is yielding what happens next in the story).
That’s how you do it. You can’t just put shiny things on a screen and hope they distract the viewer from the fact that you’re force-feeding them three minutes of dead-boring exposition. You must entertain them while feeding them. To highlight the ineffectiveness of Stahelski’s strategy, I don’t remember a single thing they discussed in that scene. But I remember what happened in that Marquis-Tracker scene down to smallest detail.
Dramatize scenes people. It makes a world of difference.
For me, what sets these movies apart is originality and cleverness within set pieces. The two set pieces that stood out to me were, one, Caine’s first sequence in the Japanese Continental Hotel. Remember, Caine is blind. So he carries these little motion sensors which he slaps onto walls. Then he lures his prey into these rooms and waits until they pass the sensors, which beep a noise, which tells Caine exactly where to point and shoot. I thought that was fun and clever.
And even though I was making fun of it earlier, I liked the John Wick club sequence for its bombastic over-the-top boss fight. John takes on this gigantic man who just won’t die. And they fight each other all over the club. The gigantic guy reminded me of boss fights in video games. You just keep hitting the guy and nothing happens. I’d never quite seen a scene like it in a film. And that’s all I’m asking for. You don’t have to give me something totally original. But at the very least, it needs to be original-adjacent.
Such a mixed bag with John Wick 4. The running time here is so ludicrous, it’s hard not to laugh at it. The number of kills could’ve been cut in half and nothing would’ve been missed. But I guess if this is your last Wick, you gotta go full Wick. And that they did!
[ ] What the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Shay Hatten says that Keanu Reeves is the king of demanding less, not more, when it comes to dialogue. In the first film (before Hatten came on board), there was a five page monologue for Keanu and Keanu ended up convincing the team that all he needed to say was, “Uh huh.” When it comes to how much, or how little, dialogue you should write, “less is more” is, historically, the more effective approach. Now you can get carried away with that. But the key is to be honest with yourself. Are you only writing that monologue because it’s a movie and you feel like that’s what happens in movies? The character gets a big monologue at this moment? Or are you writing that monologue because it’s something the character would really say? Lean into the latter. Because when characters start saying things that they don’t really need to say, that’s when dialogue dies on the screen (and on the page). There must be purpose behind the words for them to matter.
Last month, we had two winners. There was Rosemary, the actual winner. And then there was Fear City, which got second place but was able to attain the nearly impossible Showdown rating of an “Impressive.”
Who will emerge this month? I, for one, can’t wait to find out!
Every second-to-last Friday of the month, I will post the five best loglines submitted to me. You, the readers of the site, will vote for your favorite in the comments section. I review the script of the logline that received the most votes the following Friday.
If you didn’t enter in time for this month’s showdown, don’t worry! We do this every month. Just get me your logline submission by the second-to-last Thursday (April 20 is the next one) and you’re in the running! All I need is your title, genre, and logline. Send all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re one of the many writers who feel helpless when it comes to loglines, I offer logline consultations. They’re cheap – just $25. E-mail me at email@example.com if you’re interested.
Are we ready? Voting ends Sunday night, 11:59pm Pacific Time!
Good luck to all!
Logline: When the sitcom about a talking possum that gave Blair Murphy her fifteen minutes of child stardom 30 years ago gets rebooted without her, she foregoes her aversion to the internet and installs a chip in her brain that livestreams her every moment on social media in a desperate and ultimately disastrous attempt to claw her way back to relevance.
Title: Integrating Anna
Logline: Set fifty years in the future, an optimistic young man brings his A.I. fiancée home to meet his technophobic family.
Title: Blood Moon Trail
Logline: In 1867 Nebraska, a Pinkerton agent banished to a desolate post for an act of cowardice finds a chance at redemption when he decides to track down a brutal serial killer terrorizing the Western frontier.
Logline: After suffering a near fatal heart attack, a peaceful woman discovers that her new pacemaker requires consistent blood sacrifices in order for it to operate.
Title: Kill Box
Logline: Submerged by a tsunami while commuting along the San Francisco bay, a bus driver and his passengers must find a way to safety when they realize the tsunami has brought with it a pack of bloodthirsty sharks.
Get your loglines in for the Logline Showdown tonight (Thursday)!!!
If you’re planning on entering the Logline Showdown, get your logline into me by tonight (Thursday) at 10pm Pacific Time! The top five loglines will be posted tomorrow (Friday) so you’ll get some instant gratification as to whether your logline made it or not.
Send me: Title, Genre, Logline
Rules: Script must be written
Deadline: Thursday, March 23rd, at 10pm Pacific Time
I stumbled upon Swingers over the weekend and, of course, had to watch it. What’s crazy about Swingers is that it has a really strange screenplay and, from a purely technical place, is a bad example of how to write. Yet it remains one of my favorite movies ever. That’s what gave me the idea for today’s article. The following movies are responsible for teaching me the ten biggest screenwriting lessons I’ve learned. Let’s get into them!
Swingers – Swingers is a really messy movie. It has a ridiculously long first act. The main character, Mikey, is not very active. He’s just torn up about a recent break-up. After partying it up in LA for a while, his buddy, Trent, convinces him to go to Vegas. They go to Vegas, have some adventures there, only to come back to Los Angeles and continue partying. The plot was so directionless that the editor threatened to leave the project if Jon Favreau didn’t inject some purpose into the narrative, which Favreau refused to do. Yet it still works.
What I learned: Great characters will make up for a weak plot (but never vice versa). If we like the characters, we will follow them anywhere. No matter how weak the story is, we will still be engaged because we want to see what happens to these people. So, the next time you write a script, double the amount of time you spend on creating characters. Really think about how you’re going to construct characters that the audience will love.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Three friends decide not to go to school one day. Does that sound like a big concept to you? It doesn’t to me. If you pitched this idea to a studio exec in 2023, they’d politely stare back at you before replying, “Is that it?” There just isn’t enough there. Yet it has become one of the most iconic movies in cinema history. Another script in this category is Dazed and Confused. A bunch of junior high and high school students hang out on the last day of the school year. Sound like a movie to you? It doesn’t to me. Yet both movies were great. What’s going on here?
What I learned: Weak concepts can be turbocharged with very tight time frames. This was a huge one for me. I realized that very tight time frames create pressure. Pressure is conflict. Everything that happens takes on a higher significance because time is so precious. If you have a “weak” concept or “bland” subject matter, consider tightening the time frame of your movie. You’ll notice that things immediately become more interesting.
Parasite – I’m cheating a little bit because the movie that really taught me this was Star Wars. But I talk too much about Star Wars as it is (and boy do I got some Star Wars opinions coming up in this latest newsletter – sign up: firstname.lastname@example.org). One of the biggest dangers in writing a screenplay is monotony. Repetition. We feel like nothing’s evolving or changing in the story.
What I learned: Both Parasite and Star Wars taught me the power of a big mid-point development, sometimes referred to as “the midpoint twist.” For Star Wars, it’s when they get to their destination, planet Alderran, and the planet is gone. For Parasite it’s when they reveal that there’s a secret basement in the home with another character living there. A strong midpoint plot development (midpoint just means the middle of the screenplay) can not only shake up your story, but it helps the second half of your script feel different from your first half. Which is important because so many scripts die a slow painful death due to the fact that nothing in the story is evolving or changing.
The Hangover – The Hangover isn’t just the last giant theatrical comedy release. It contains a lesson that goes beyond comedy and encapsulates an approach that every screenwriter should be taking when coming up with a concept.
What I learned: Find a less obvious, more unexpected way into a concept. The obvious concept for The Hangover is a bunch of guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party, get into some shenanigans, and comedy ensues. That’s the way into this idea for 99 out of 100 screenwriters. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore found a fresher angle into it. What if you skipped the bachelor party and focused on the next day, with a friend missing and everyone too hungover to remember what happened the night before? Now you’ve got a concept that most writers never have a prayer of coming up with.
Hide and Seek – Hold on hold on hold on. Am I reading this right? Is Carson talking about the 2005 Robert DeNiro Dakota Fanning horror film for an all-time screenwriting lesson? Yes. Yes I am. But not in the way you think. 1999 gave us one of the most famous horror movies of all time, The Sixth Sense. That’s where this lesson begins.
What I learned: A good twist ending is almost impossible to pull off. The amazing twist ending in The Sixth Sense spurred a ton of copycats over the next decade. Every horror film was an attempt to shock you at the end. And they were all REALLY BAD. Hide and Seek has a twist ending that I don’t even remember. I just remember leaving the theater seething that I had paid money for such garbage. But it was just one in many terrible twist endings that I’d watched since the Sixth Sense’s success. I finally realized how difficult it was to write a good twist ending. So the lesson is, don’t write a twist ending unless you are 100% super clearly obviously there’s-no-way-I-can-be-wrong sure you have a whopper of a perfect twist. If there’s even a little bit of doubt in you, your twist ending probably sucks.
Inglorious Basterds – This lesson is, in part, one I learned in Inglorious Basterds, but it’s really a lesson I learned from all of Quentin’s films, cause he does it so well. It stems from the “Milk” scene that opens the script. Or the OD scene in Pulp Fiction. Or the Manson scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
What I learned: Scenes can be self-contained mini-stories. A scene is an opportunity to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you can embody this approach, you are unstoppable as a screenwriter because it will be impossible for your scripts to get boring. If readers are getting wrapped up in each individual scene because that scene contains a compelling story, they’ll never be able to put your script down.
Mad Max: Fury Road – People remember this film as one of the most visceral experiences they’ve ever had at the movies. Technically, I shouldn’t be including it, though, since it was constructed without a screenplay. However, there is a GIGANTIC screenwriting lesson in here that is so critical, I can’t not highlight it.
What I learned: The power of urgency. This film is the epitome of urgency. There is no free time. Things need to happen RIGHT NOW. That’s almost always when movies work best – when things need to happen right away. Not next week. Not tomorrow. RIGHT NOW. It gives your script so much energy. You may be thinking, but I’m not writing a big Hollywood movie, Carson. I’m writing something smaller. Okay, stop what you’re doing and go watch the French movie, Full Time, right now. Very small movie that has EVEN MORE URGENCY THAN Mad Max: Fury Road.
Die Hard – Perfect movie? There are about 50 screenwriting lessons you can learn from this film. But the biggest thing I took away from it was, “What a great character.” And I went about trying to figure out why I rooted for this character as much as I did. What I realized? He was insanely active.
What I learned: The more active the main character, the better. Movies love characters who are ACTIVE. Active characters push the story along since they’re always trying to achieve an immediate goal. John McClane is always trying to get somewhere, to take down someone, to get one step closer to defeating the bad guy and saving his wife. The most boring scripts I read are almost always the ones with the least active protagonists.
Titanic – Every night, in my dreams. I see you. I feel you. No amount of hate or ridicule will ever prevent me from promoting the spectacular screenwriting feat that is Titanic. Any movie that’s 3 hours-plus has an incredible challenge in front of it. How do you remain engaging for so long? Especially if you don’t have the spectacle of superheroes fighting each other?
What I learned: The incredible power of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when we, the audience, know something our heroes do not. Usually that they’re in danger. The reason we’re willing to hang around for an hour and a half of an, arguably, cheesy love story, is because WE KNOW THE SHIP IS SINKING AND THEY DON’T. That’s why. And that’s the power of dramatic irony. It can be used over the course of an entire movie, like Titanic, within sequences of scenes, or within individual scenes.
Fargo (the movie) – The opening scene of Jerry Lundgaard walking into a bar to set up the kidnapping of his wife with two criminals remains one of the biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments I’ve ever had in screenwriting. Because it could’ve been a straight-forward scene. But, instead, the two criminals are furious with Jerry because he’s late. And that lateness infuses the scene with this anger and disdain, elevating an average dramatic situation it into a tightly wound uncomfortable experience.
What I learned: Add conflict to your scenes! Without conflict, most scenes are just exposition. They are characters exchanging information that pushes the story forward. But if you only do that, there is no drama. You need drama to keep the reader entertained. Enter conflict. Find some sort of unresolved issue and have it play into the scene, either on the surface or under the surface. As long as there is conflict, your scene has a good chance of being entertaining.