Here’s just a few things I learned about writing an action script, as I was writing it.
1. Plot doesn’t matter, except when it does.
Action scripts have a strange relationship to plot. If you think about all the actions films you’ve seen, it’s not really the plot you remember. You remember the action and you remember the character(s). Hellboy had something to do with the devil taking over the earth, but Hellboy is a fun character and that scene when he fights the monster in the subway is action at its best. Lethal Weapon was something to do with militias and heroin, but what’s great is Mel Gibson being such a crazy bad ass.
Having said that, the plot is what drives the action along. Obviously the better the story is, the better the action would be. But looking at these films, as I’ve done a lot of, and the best plots are the simplest ones. The more complicated ones get bogged down explaining everything near the end, when they should be delivering the main course. The real story is what’s going on with the characters, which brings me to the second thing I learned.
2. Action films are really character dramas.
The action is fun, especially when it’s done well, but what makes an action film stand out is a fun character and what’s going on with their life and relationships. Bruce Willis in Die Hard is dealing with the bad guys, but he’s also dealing with a marriage gone bad. Spiderman is great when he’s kicking ass, but it’s just as much fun to watch him be such a loser in life, trying to chase Mary Jane. If you don’t embrace those scenes as a writer, I’m not sure what you’re going to be writing because the action only gets you so far.
3. Endings are important
This may seem self-evident, but I’ve gotten an entirely new perspective on how endings work and how to approach them by writing this script. Sure, you want to tie it all together at the end. Of course, you’re big action scene at the end has to outdo whatever came before it. (I’m not sure about that rule, but it’s a nice goal.) Most importantly, you want to deliver that jolt, that shiver that goes up your spine, that feeling that makes you think, fuck yeah! Think of the end of Robocop. What came before it was great, but the ending was so satisfying.
Maybe that’s the feeling you’re looking for: satisfaction. You know that feeling when you keep eating and don’t get full, but eventually you just get tired of chewing? The orgasm isn’t always the best part of sex, but when it is, it is. The buildup is one thing, but if you need to deliver in the end. To do this, you need to spend a hugely disproportionate amount of work on the last ten pages of your script. That work pays off.
There’s plenty of other things I learned, so maybe I’ll do another post like this later.