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Sunday, March 27, 2016

It's All Built to This: The Massive Movie Checklist Spreadsheet (And Your Help Needed!)

So here’s the big pay off for the last two years or so of this blog: Click here and you’ll download a massive spreadsheet (previewed above) of all of the answers to all 140 questions for all 24 movies I’ve subjected to the checklist.

You may have questions, such as “Dear God, Man, Why?” Why would I do all this work, and why would I pass it on to you? Well, lots of reasons:
  • It allows you to not only see how one movie answered all 140 questions, it allows you to see how each question was answered by all 24 movies. The goal is to get a better understanding of each question, what it’s really asking, and what value that question has when applied to your manuscript.
  • Once we understand that, we can start the task of winnowing.
The book, alas, was too darn long, so we’re cutting questions. We want to get it down to 120 questions. This means that once again I’m seeking your help! Do you use the checklist? Can you help us cut out some questions?
  • Which questions have you found impossible to answer?
  • Which questions do you find unimportant or useless?
  • Which questions do you think might actually harm your story by answering yes?
For the next week or two, I’ll propose questions that I’ve thought about cutting, and you can vote on those, but first I wanted to have an open free-for-all. Do any of you have any candidates for cutting? Feel free to download the spreadsheet and scroll around to confirm your suspicions that a question is not generating interesting answers.

Thank you so much!

6 comments:

Brian Malbon said...

It very much depends if you're going to be promoting this as a guide for any type of dramatic writing or specifically screenwriting. If you're going to expand to allow the novel or short story format (for which most of this checklist works admirably, by the way), I would suggest that some of the scene work questions can be eliminated, dialogue being much more fluid outside of the concise format of a screenplay.

If that's the case, I would cut out #72,82, 84, 92 and 99, which tend to focus specifically on keeping dialogue more clipped and fast-moving. These are elements that aren't always necessary outside of a screenplay, but will probably be tweaked in the natural editing process of a screenplay in any event.

I would also suggest including a short appendix that includes the checklist in its totality, even if you don't focus on every question in detail in the book.

Justin Walsh said...

"Is this a new twist on a classic type of story?" - I've never liked this question, at least at the start. Almost everything else on the list relates to the quality of the story being told, but this immediately tries to force a story into a box and basically says: 'If you can't meet this fuzzy criterion, stop now.' That's shitty advice at the start of a manuscript, but it could work well near the end as a quality assurance tool.

"Is at least one human being opposed to what the hero is doing?" - Not in Gravity, or Apollo 13. Are the bad guys in many action movies really human beings, or just plot-device cyphers? Or is this question actually asking whether a character's philosophy is being challenged, either by circumstance or by the philosophies of other characters? It just doesn't feel like it's asking something clear and meaningful at the moment.

Questions 102 - 104: "Are there additional characters with..." These three questions could be compressed down into one.

"Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue..." could be added as a parenthetical to the question, "Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?"

"Do non-professor characters speak..." could be folded into the question about characters having a consistent metaphor family and voice.

"Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood, and expectation?" This seems like a purely formal question. Does it qualitatively matter if the story does or not?

Matt Bird said...

Good calls all around.

Brian: Writer's Digest is a publisher that's more aimed at fiction writers than screenwriters, so it is pushing in that direction. I would argue that brisk dialogue is also great for prose writing, but I agree that there are too many questions about dialogue that push dialogue to be a little too aggressive. I'm looking at cutting some of those.

Justin: Many good calls. That first question has to go, especially.

Justin Walsh said...

Glad to be of help :) I was typing in a hurry earlier, so my tone is a little sharper than I would have liked. Hope I caused no upset.

Matt Bird said...

Not at all!

j. ward said...

Is that file still available, because the link reads unavailable....