Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Writing Wisdom – Matt Whitaker

You may not know Matt Whitaker by name, but it is possible you’ve seen his movies, Matt is a screenwriter and director who got his start in Provo, Utah. As a matter of fact, I worked on a LDS Motion Picture Studio film with him many, many years ago. The movie he is most likely to be recognized for nationally as screenwriter is for Saints and Soldiers, the story of four American soldiers and one Brit fighting in Europe during World War II struggle to return to Allied territory after being separated from U.S. forces during the historic Malmedy Massacre. Local audiences will also know his work from The Work and the Glory II & III.
Matt’s current project is Truth and Treason which explores the complex bond that forms between the brilliant young resistance fighter, Helmuth Hübener and Erich Muessener, the Gestapo agent intent on hunting him down. This film examines the human struggle for freedom and confirms the impact of one courageous voice. They are in pre-production in Budapest, and Haley Joel Osment is slated to play the Helmuth role.

Being a screenwriter is not always what people expect it will be. “I didn’t even see Saints and Soldiers until the entire film was finished and I went to the screening, and I wrote the script!” Whitaker says. “And no one has ever asked me where I went to film school, or if I have a degree. When it comes to making movies its all about who you know, what you can do, and how well you get along with other people.”

Matt finds his specialty as film adaptation of books. “Adapting is the process of identifying and focusing the story,” he says. “You need to keep everything visual, which means sometimes you add something new.”

Whitaker suggests you need to read the book a number of times. “Get to know the character, get a copy that you can tear out the pages to organize them into the plot the way it needs to bein the movie.”

He divides the plots into three or four parts: storyline A is the main plot, the one with the most movement and where you’ll find the protagonist. The subplots are B, D, and possibly D. They weave together around the spine of the main plt, where the protagonist finds his/her deep desire and uses sufficient effort to restore the balance of life.

Anyone who has studied film either formally or on their own by being an avid watcher will recognize the three act structure: Act One sets up the story, introduces characters, and establishes the problem the character must solve at the climax; Act Two shows what the protagonist is willing to do to solve the problem; and Act Three builds to a climax and provides a resolution that is emotionally satisfying to the audience.

As when writing fiction, don’t allow your characters to run into a cul-de-sac! Subplots need a relationship and effect on the main story. They must lead the characters somewhere else in the main story. If they do not, then cut them out.

Another trick for all types of writing, hide the exposition. Spread it out so the audience doesn’t know they are hearing it, and don’t let your characters talk about something they both already know.

Remember that film can’t support as many characters as a book. Define the function of each, then decide if you really need them. Find the sub-text in every scene. What does a character mean, as opposed to what they say. Give those characters each a unique voice, and look for the overall theme.

Whitaker also reminds us, “There should be lots of white in a screenplay. Find the most concise and meaningful way to express a moment of action. The script is the blueprint. Try to make it into its own form of literature.”

1 comment:

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

I was worried when I first saw this guy's name. My baby's birth father is named Matt Whitaker. He's a meth addict and wife beater.

Glad it's not the same guy! LOL