Using Sergio G. Sánchez's classic horror The Orphanage as a case study, James Napoli explores the concept of Plants and Payoffs.
“Bad for glass,” mutters private eye Jake Gittes in Robert Towne’s Chinatown. When the statement is first heard in the story, it is merely Jake’s culturally insensitive remark about the inability of Evelyn Mulwray’s gardener to pronounce the letter “r.” It has no meaning to Gittes, who is–by virtue of his being an investigator uncovering […]
James Napoli explores the difference between the use of surprise and suspense in screenwriting.
By James Napoli. I had an interesting experience while binge-watching the first two seasons of the beautifully acted and tonally flawless British television series Broadchurch. In an attempt to keep this article spoiler-free, I will simply say that the program, which concerns itself with the murder of a child in a small town, is exceedingly […]
James Napoli explains that sometimes it’s OK to use On-the-Nose dialogue.
By James Napoli. Near the end of Richard Wenk’s screenplay for 16 Blocks (which became a rather entertaining and underrated film in 2006), the protagonist’s sister, a nurse, unloads a little diatribe about her brother, a washed-up cop who is on the run protecting a witness being hunted by a corrupt police force: DIANE […]
James Napoli comes to the defense of two often misused screenwriting techniques.
By James Napoli. Flashbacks Nothing provokes a more knee-jerk “don’t do it” reaction from screenwriters than the decision to include one or more flashbacks in one’s screenplay. We can, of course, understand this compulsion to remain linear, and the gut instinct that to tell the story from beginning to end is the only pure way […]
James Napoli explores Hitchcock as a writer, examining his use of recurring motifs and themes in three of his classic films.
By James Napoli. One can accuse Alfred Hitchcock of being many things, but unintentional is not one of them. His films were constructions, designs of often epic thematic proportions that commented upon themselves even as they fooled us into being entertained. Donald Spoto, in his well-known text The Art of Alfred Hitchock: Fifty Years of […]
James Napoli examines the differences between the screenplay and the final version of the film, and discusses why these changes were made.
There are many screenplays available online, but one in particular has some terrific lessons in it regarding the streamlining of a story, and what decisions are made between the page and the screen that can be particularly instructive to writers. That screenplay is Groundhog Day, the second revision by the late (and hugely lamented) Harold […]
James Napoli discusses the use – and over-use – of dialogue.
By James Napoli. A funny thing happened when I decided to revisit the car chase from Bullitt. I found myself on edge in a way I could not quite define. I seemed to be experiencing more of a sense of tension and worry than I normally do in an action scene. Then, about three minutes […]
James Napoli discusses what to do – and what not do to – when setting scenes in your screenplay.
By James Napoli. EXT. STREET – DAY A car is parked at the curb. Inside, a group of screenwriters wait at the corner of nothing and nowhere, failing to set the scene with any specificity and therefore failing to engage the reader into something resembling a cinematic experience. Every screenplay should be set somewhere. Forget […]