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About this book

What is it that makes humans engage with a dramatic narrative? Is it linked to our primitive selves, contained within our instinctive experience?

This innovative text argues that understanding how and why our human instincts are brought into play as we watch screen drama is the key to writing it. Analysing four powerful instincts – willpower, logic, morality and emotion – Sam North explores how they determine our level of involvement in their drama, and how screenwriters can use them to develop their craft. Including a variety of both well-known and less famous examples, from The Shawshank Redemption to Samira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple, this book offers a fresh new approach to thinking about, discussing and writing screenplays.

Table of Contents

1. The Map of Desire

Abstract
In Joanna Lumley Meets Will.i.am (Sibley 2014) the actress Joanna Lumley escorted Will.i.am, co-founder of super-group The Black-Eyed Peas, around his home territory in south Los Angeles. She witnessed his good works: he had started a company that developed fabric out of recycled plastic bottles; funded educational initiatives for underprivileged youths; designed a building devoted to the art of music. Will.i.am appeared to be a man at peace, content, and, for someone who exhibited such drive, such purpose, and who offered so many different accomplishments, he was relaxed in his demeanour. Towards the end of the programme Lumley asked him what single quality was it, did he think, that was responsible for his success? He replied, ‘Will.’ Joanna Lumley was initially confused, but then he added, ‘Will I am. Will.’ Joanna Lumley understood – and the logic behind the chopping of his name, William, into three different sections, Will.i.am, became clear. The single quality responsible for his success was willpower. Schopenhauer went further and claimed that willpower is everything. At the outset of the first volume of The World as Will and Representation (1818/2010) he promises to explore, ‘a truth that must be very serious and alarming, if not terrifying to anyone, a truth that can and must be maintained … namely this: “The world is my will”’ (24).
Sam North

2. Logic Junkie

Abstract
In Three Uses of the Knife (2002), dramatist David Mamet describes how important is the art of logic to the human animal. It is our nature to elaborate perception into hypotheses and then reduce those hypotheses to information upon which we can act. It is our special adaptive device, equivalent to the bird’s flight – our unique survival tool. And drama, music and art are our celebration of that tool, exactly like the woodcock’s manic courting flight, the whale’s breaching leap. The excess of ability/energy/skill/strength/love is expressed in species-specific ways. In goats it is leaping, in humans it is making art. (65) This statement is fundamental to the craft of dramatic writing. Mamet identifies logic as an instinct, a species-specific skill that has evolved in the human animal to allow us dominion over our surroundings, and ensure our survival. Boyd agrees – ‘Humans uniquely inhabit “the cognitive niche”: we gain most of our advantages from intelligence.’
Sam North

3. The Line in the Sand

Abstract
In the period when he was researching for The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) Charles Darwin swapped correspondence with a multitude of people in different parts of the world looking for the human blush. The blush was of particular interest because it is a physiological, animal reaction; it cannot be cultivated or repressed. It is a behaviour in our species that could only be attributed to instinct, our fundamental nature, the raw creature, homo sapiens. Blood rushes to the surface of the skin to denote a particular reaction – anger, or shame. Darwin searched the world over for the human blush. During that same year, 1871, he wrote to the English sculptor Thomas Woolner. I dare say you often meet and know well painters. Could you persuade some trustworthy men to observe young and inexperienced girls who serve as models, and who at first blush much, how low down the body the blush extends. Several eminent surgeons have been observing for me, and with a single exception have never seen a blush extend beneath (and rarely so far down) as the upper 2/3 of the breasts.
Sam North

4. Moods and Mental States

Abstract
In Moving Viewers (2009) Carl Plantinga asks that film scholars should never again ‘use the tired literary metaphor of a “reading” to describe the viewer’s encounter with a film … [because] it implies that film viewing is a cool, intellectual experience’ (2) and he asks for intellectual prejudice against emotion to be stripped away – [F]or the vast majority of film spectators, movie going is first and foremost a pleasurable experience, suffused with affect. Audiences are willing to pay for this experience with money, time and effort, and in return they expect to be fascinated, shocked, titillated, made suspenseful and curious, invited to laugh and cry, and in the end given pleasure. On this foundation of pleasurable affect rests the multibillion dollar international media industries. (2) Plantinga’s ‘pleasurable affect’ is made of emotions, and emotions are a family of powerful instinctive behaviours that contribute to our survival and thriving. They are explosive accelerants to the instincts that have made up the previous three chapters of this book.
Sam North
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