Gone Girl — Dont Underestimate the Screenwriter


Lessons from the Screenplay


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Hi, I'm Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. Many audiences never consider how important a great screenwriter is to a movie. They may not realize how much the director and actors take their cues from the script, or think about why some scenes are exciting and others are boring. Because the hardest part about screenwriting isn't having an idea for a story, it's figuring out how to tell that story in a compelling way. Today we're looking at Gone girl, for which Gillian Flynn had the difficult task of adapting her novel into a modern film noir thriller. "I did not kill my wife." The screenplay is very well crafted, and mixes traditional storytelling methods with her own personal style to create a unique story world. Let's take a look at a few techniques Gillian Flynn used in her fantastic screenplay for Gone Girl. Number one. Efficient action lines. In a script, action lines describe what is happening. They're important because they help the director translate scenes from script to screen. And Gillian Flynn writes great action lines. In this scene, she efficiently sets the tone in just two sentences. And a few lines later... While it's up to the director and actor, in this case Neil Patrick Harris, to decide how to portray this on screen, this action line serves as a guide. And if you watch the scene with this action line in mind, you see that NPH truly gives him nothing. You may notice that the dialogue in the final film is different from the script. This happens frequently. The director or writer or actor changes something on set. This is why it's so important for the writer to set the tone of the scenes in the script — so anyone making changes understands the context and intention of the original line. For example, at the end of the scene, Flynn writes: The phrase "ugly pause" is such a great way to describe a moment. It implies tone and pacing in just two words. Gillian Flynn's action lines are descriptive, concise, and full of personality. The second technique I want to talk about is: The Last Line is the Point of the Scene. In Anatomy of Story by John Truby - a screenwriting book I highly recommend - he writes: He uses an upside-down triangle to represent the idea. Let's apply the triangle to one of the best scenes in Gone Girl. "Hello?" The first line of the scene is: Which immediately frames what the whole scene is about. What does Nick actually know? What is he lying about? This scene is about Nick realizing how much trouble he's in. Let's watch as Flynn makes the scene funnel toward a single point. Nick begins to understand that all of the evidence points to him. The noose tightens... And tightens... And tightens. Until finally: Boom. The scene culminates in a single point as Nick finally realizes the trouble that he's in. He makes a new decision and the story moves right along. That's good screenwriting. If you look for it, you'll notice most good scenes follow this simple rule. The last topic I want to cover is one of the most misunderstood story techniques: The subplot character. Most people think of a subplot character as a kind of other-protagonist in a separate storyline, but this is incorrect. Again, quoting John Truby: Basically, it's a character that is dealing with the same problem as the protagonist, but in a different way. Of the two subplot characters in Gone Girl, one is in the movie for a single scene. By comparing the protagonist, Nick, with this subplot character the writer can reveal information and demonstrate how certain choices may play out. The first comparison: Amy is framing Nick for murder, and she previously framed Tommy for rape. This is new information for both Nick and the audience. Amy has a history of this behavior. The second comparison: Amy lashed out at Tommy after he stopped trying to be the man she wanted him to be. This is an important lesson for Nick, because eventually he realizes this is how he can get Amy to come back - by going on TV and pretending to be the man she wants him to be again. Nick is learning from Tommy's experience. And the final comparison: Tommy underestimated the extreme lengths that Amy could go to. This is essentially a warning for Nick - Amy is crazy enough to get away with this if she wants to. In just one scene, Gillian Flynn is able to use the Tommy character to give Nick and the audience new information, and show a glimpse of what could happen to Nick if he's not careful. And, because she's a good screenwriter, the scene ends at the point. I really appreciate films that respect the audience, where you can tell the people that made it really care about creating an entertaining experience. The screenplay for Gone Girl is a great example of how to use simple, classic storytelling techniques to do exactly that. Thanks for watching Lessons from the Screenplay. If you have a suggestion for a script I should analyze in the future, leave a comment below. And if you want more insights into great screenplays, be sure to like this video and subscribe.