Many people working in the Entertainment Industry were originally drawn to pursue their careers because of their passion and love for movies and/or TV. These passionate industry insiders are usually your first audience as a professional screenwriter.
Achieving a personal connection with an industry professional is best achieved by invoking an expert knowledge of past movies and TV shows. The way to prove this expertise is through your script by knowing what has already been done… what has been celebrated… what is tired… and what is prime for innovation.
Having this knowledge is like learning a second language. I have a name for this second language -- película veritas. Pelicula veritas is Latin. The direct translation into English is “Movie Truth.”
Because of the many hours watching movies, TV, and other media, the person fluent in película veritas has an understanding of pop culture that towers above the generations of people who lived before cable TV with 500 channels, and mobile phones with streaming video.
Película veritas is also a shorthand reference to the language entertainment industry professionals use to discuss with their peers their creative choices in storytelling.
Pelicula veritas is a term also used to reference the second language acquired by the majority of audience members who have grown up watching a ton of movies and TV. All professional writers must be hip and cognizant of película veritas because this is the language modern audiences are fluent in as they enjoy media entertainment.
The 1993 western, Tombstone (screenplay written by Kevin Jarre), has a first act scene that is critical to the overall story.
Two gunfighters – Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer) and Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) – meet for the first time, an encounter meant to have a lasting impact so this single scene can be used to set up a later confrontation in the third act.
If you had been the screenwriter of this movie, your goal would have been to create a scene that was so powerful the audience would remember it throughout the rest of the film leading up to a third act showdown. That’s a tall order, but one the screenwriter of Tombstone manages to achieve.
The screenwriter of Tombstone comes up with the creative idea of having both of the characters share something in common – the ability to speak and understand Latin. Having Holiday and Ringo both fluent in this “dead” language reveals an educated background which deepens the intimacy of their initial encounter. This shared bond also suggests the gunfighters have another thing in common – both characters are tortured mentally by their self-hatred because of the way their lives have turned out despite their scholarly upbringing.
You can watch one of the best scenes in western movies here.
Besides being the high-water mark of Val Kilmer’s acting career, the scene is a perfect example of a screenwriter using all of his craft (and art) to satisfy the many creative issues confronting a storyteller. This is why the scene from “Tombstone” is now part of the película veritas lexicon.
One of the highlights of my screenwriting career was a film pitch I set up with the biggest filmmaker of the last four decades… Steven Spielberg.
After a whirlwind pitching process at all the major studios, a story I had had come up with titled, “Alien Zoo,” wound up being bought by DreamWorks SKG after a spirited bidding war.
Here’s a breakdown of the formula I used to sell this pitch.
I would start with the premises, just a few sentences of substance and sizzle.
After giving the executives a few moments to digest the words, I launched right into the first scene/sequence before the credits.
Next I would take some time to describe the main character, his background, and suggest what his goals were at the outset of the story.
Then I would pick up where I left off with the main storyline, going beat by plot beat, highlighting the spin at the end of the first act, and emphasizing other key story points through all three acts.
Of course I would attempt to finish with a flourish as I described the climax of the story.
The pitch lasted about fifteen minutes. Sometimes a little longer, and sometimes a little shorter. It would be shorter if you knew your audience wasn’t interested.
The pitch ended up triggering three studios to bid on the rights to “Alien Zoo,” with Spielberg and Dreamworks SKG landing the rights by paying six figures for me to write the story.
But to this day I’m certain that the key to selling the pitch of “Alien Zoo” was because the words I spoke resonated in two languages -- English… and pelicula veritas.
Speaking the language of película veritas is about making sure the pitch hits the mark concerning what an executive/studio/filmmaker wants to hear when they sign on to a project. Yes, the pitch for “Alien Zoo” had a cool storyline, characters you cared about, and plot beats that would keep the audience on the edge of their seat when it was made into a movie.
But what I believe really sold the pitch was pelicula veritas . And not just the story I told, but also the other screenplays I had written were proof to all the interested parties that I was fluent in the language of pelicula veritas.
As a screenwriter you have to be creative, imaginative, and original to sell your pitch/and/ or your script. And perhaps the only way you can be “original” is to be fluent in película veritas. It means that a screenwriter who is creative and imaginative in their work usually starts by knowing what has come before in the genre they are writing in. If a screenwriter is serious about their craft they must know what has been previously celebrated; what feels tired; and what will come off to Industry Professionals as inspired, inventive, and innovative.
Becoming fluent in película veritas is mandatory for those who want to avoid industry pros rolling their eyes because of something you’ve said or written is something they’ve seen or read dozens (perhaps hundreds!) of times.
Let’s say your script had these scenes –
- A character fainting, and while his mates come to his aid, an alien creature suddenly bursts out of his chest.
- The main character jumps atop the highest point of a ship at sea and shouts aloud while another character watches with admiration.
- Two characters, one older and the other younger, locked in a vicious duel to the death. But at the climax of the struggle, instead of finishing the fight , the older combatant offers his opponent a chance to join his team with the words, “I am your father.”
I purposely used the above examples because they are so obviously huge touchstones amongst those fluent in película veritas. And yet, the reality is that many screenwriters will still end up writing similar scenes, (sometimes almost carbon copies) to what I have listed above.
As a film producer, when I read a script from a screenwriter that contains a reworking/or/ outright lift of a scene from an iconic film from the past, I will always cry foul. And when I do call the screenwriter to task, the scribe usually responds with one of these four choices as an excuse –
a) “The scene was an homage.”
b) “No one in the audience will notice”
c) “I can’t believe you’re calling me on this. Everyone knows there’s nothing anyone can come up with that is original in writing a screenplay.”
d) “I had no idea what you’re pointing out has already been done before.”
In my judgment, none of the above answers are truly acceptable if you are a screenwriter who wants to be taken seriously as a professional artist.
For the record -- the third choice is reprehensible. I want tell every writer who voices the third excuse to stop writing screenplays and save anyone in the future the misery of reading their scripts.
The fourth choice is a big reveal about the screenwriter who employs it as an excuse. It means the scribe perhaps has not worked hard enough to become fluent in pelicula veritas.
I won’t go so far as to claim that if one is ignorant of película veritas they will never find success in the entertainment industry. But I do believe undiscovered screenwriters get only a few solid and meaningful chances to advance their career, or get their script produced. And being fluent in película veritas goes a long way in helping a writer make the most of those rare opportunities.
Richard Finney is a Los Angeles based screenwriter (member of the WGA) who has sold pitches to Touchstone Pictures, Warner Brothers, and to Steven Spielberg at Dream Works.
He is also an award winning film producer of twelve movies starring such actors as Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, Katherine Heigl, Giovanni Ribissi, and Oliver Hudson.
His three books in his Professional Screenwriting e-Book Series have become amazon.com bestsellers.
His novels include the DEMON DAYS Book Series, which also are amazon.com bestsellers.
For more info -- http://richardfinney.blogspot.com/
Truth - Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net