Write a seven-page screenplay about two characters who initially feel no connection whatsoever—a connection between them is highly improbable—but by the end of the screenplay they have come to feel an authentic connection. And follow these guidelines:
1. Establish the improbability of your characters ever connecting.
In Philadelphia, the improbability of a connection between Andrew and Joe is carefully set up when Joe refuses to represent Andrew. And it's underlined again in a scene between Joe and his wife—just before the law library scene— when Joe admits that he's prejudiced. He doesn't want to work with a homosexual, much less one with AIDS.
Would you take a client if you were constantly thinking: 'I hope this guy doesn't touch me. I don't even want him to breathe on me?'
This scene clearly establishes the revulsion Joe feels toward Andrew Beckett. Yet, in the following law library scene, in four short pages, Nyswaner creates a credible connection between these two men, a short but significant journey for Joe from prejudice to understanding.
2. Create your pattern of change—connecting—with a series of connection beats—discoveries and decisions your characters make that bring them closer together. Connecting is a path; what are the stepping stones— moments of change—in your screenplay?
3. Make sure the connection beats are clearly rendered so we see each moment of change happen on paper/screen.
4. The process of connecting between your two characters must be believable. You're creating emotional realism, a pattern of human change and emotional flow that we buy.
5. If you need a third character to help effect the connection, as Nyswaner does in Philadelphia, you may create one, but remember that the focus of this screenplay is the improbable connection between your two main characters.
6. This is a screenplay, not a scene, so feel free to open your story up and move it and your characters through various times and locations.
7. Give us a sense of an ending, how the characters are changed by this unexpected connection.
9. No skits. Connection is one of the deepest, most profound patterns of human change. It's more than "You like Chinese food? I like Chinese food!" It may start that way, but you need to dig deeper for a pattern of change that makes a difference to your characters. Your screenplay may be a comedy like Slow Dancin' Down the Aisles of the Quickcheck, but the connection must be deeply felt by the characters and the audience alike.
10. Avoid sap. Purple (overly emotional) writing. Sentimentality. Sentiment—authentic feeling and emotion—is important, essential, just don't take it so far over the top that we want to reach for our barf bags.
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