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February 21 2006

Movie Analysis: Serenity. Chris Huntley analyzes "Serenity" via a software program called Dramatica Pro. Warning: May be too in-depth for some!

I chuckled at a few of the oddities, though. Mr. Huntley misspells Mal's name, and we all know about Miranda - but who the heck's "Melinda"? :} Still, it's nice to read this from a newbie's perspective, and he gives the movie decent marks! PS: "MC" means Main Character, "OS" means "Overall Storyline" and "IC" means Impact Character.

I have removed the spoiler tag, since we have stopped setting it for Serenity for a few months now.
Hmm, what movies would be like if they were written by Deep Blue. It's kinda weirdly fascinating to read story lines stripped down by a software program. Also, incredibly disconcerting.

Proof that there's so much more to screenwriting than driving a selection of Main and Impact Character - and let's not forget "contagonist" - sheep through an Overall Story pen comes in looking at the analysis offered of The Philadelphia Story. It may get the "Obstacle Character Throughline Act Order" bang-on, but it gives absolutely no hint of why it's such a rollickingly great movie.

(And aside from the misspellings, I was gnashing my teeth at the incorrect use of "it's" throughout . . . grrr.)
Thanks, herb! I glanced through the "how to post" section since this was my first post, so I didn't want to inadvertently step on toes in case the spoiler tag was needed. But most everyone should've seen the movie by now.

And SNT, I almost wanted to play, "hunt for the spelling mistakes" in the analysis! There were quite a few...:D

Dramatica seems like a cold way to outline movies, true...but maybe some folks need the theory to write better stories.
but maybe some folks need the theory to write better stories.

But none of that is really writing theory at all. It's a formula. And taking an already formed film and applying Dramatica to it proves that they can deconstruct a film, but it does not suggest Dramatica Pro can actually help the reverse - the actual creation of a screenplay.

There is writing theory that needs to be learned, for sure. The best lesson for writers is: "Write!" But there are rules of structure to learn and guidelines of basic storytelling tenets.

But to put that much formula out there as necessary to the creation of a screenplay inhibits creativity. You must learn the rules and then learn when to break them. Unfortunately, these days a lot of companies are selling the dream - if you buy our product and learn our formula you'll write a script that can sell.

All this article will do is scare people OR scare them into writing formulaic crap.
Thought I might have seen this a little earlier! Read there for other comments.
Ah, good catch of your own previous link, StaffOSimon. I don't think I registered that one at all - I probably lost it, as you suggested back in October, in the flurry of reviews and box office scuttlebutt.

Because the previous comment thread never really delved into the subject matter, maybe we'll leave it up to see if it draws more discussion . . .
"Malcome (Mal) Reynolds"

*doubletake*

A sw-what?
I was gnashing my teeth at the incorrect use of "it's" throughout . . . grrr


I was annoyed by the constant use of 'Melinda' instead of Miranda.
Luddites. I thought it was neat. :D
Dang, I didn't know this was a repeat - I wouldn't have added it. Sorry 'bout that. Feel free to delete, if necessary.

And Keith G, I'm not sure if writing in this way would produce formulaic crap, per se - I think sometimes people like breaking stories down into components, to see how they tick. You're right, though, it doesn't really help the creativity juices, that's for sure. There's bound to be easier creative writing software programs out there!

But since we've seen the movie and we know what it's about, I kind of like seeing this way of looking at the movie. No, I don't want to see "Serenity" totally broken down into cold components, but I sort of like viewing the characters as archetypes. Well, maybe it's interesting to me because I'd like to see if Huntley's *really* right in the different scenarios (and I write too much). Guess I see it as another way of looking at it, even if others might not. I hope I didn't scare anyone, though.
I guess I can see this software being useful on an academic writing course to see how other scripts tick but trying to remember all those categories and story points in the actual production of a screenplay would seem to me (a non-writer) to be a fairly Herculean task not to mention very distracting from the flow of the writing process (tho' I realise that screenplays are more technical than prose fiction usually is anyway).

Maybe if you analysed enough material this way then the technique would just sink in and become another subconscious tool. Also, perhaps it could be useful in moving past a story/plot problem (in the same way i've read that some writers use the Campbellian hero's journey) but I think Keith G hits the nail when he worries about formulaic results and the importance of learning rules to subvert them at opportune moments rather than just to slavishly follow them.

Have to say as well that, though it was interesting, I actually found the article fairly hard to read due to the number of typos (it's frikkin 'Malcolm' FFS ;) but that's not the software's fault and I don't want to cast aspersions on the article's author (there could be any number of reasons for them).
I always find it annoying to read something about writing only to have spelling errors (or worse) throughout. I should think that people catering to prospective writers would be a bit more careful, since their product is undermined by their own carelessness or ignorance. Oh, well.

I thought this was interesting to a point, and it might be useful as a crutch to help students learn to analyze a story or script, but I have to agree with the rest of you who think this would be cumbersome, at the least, and would result in formulaic stories. Sadly, many people would fall for this, I fear, as so many want to shortcut the learning process. But if such rules were all writing were about, then everybody could write successful scripts. And if a good script were all that made a movie great, then one wouldn't need good actors and directors and so forth. (Have to agree with SNT about The Philadelphia Story in this regard.) Take Serenity for example . . .
Do any of the active writers who post here actually use any of these software systems ?

I found the format distracted me from what the analyst was saying rather than making it clearer. I'd have expected something like a timeline showing what the different characters were experiencing at different points in the film ?

I'm also suspicious that the technique used does not work well with Joss' work. He has a story for almost every character in the drama and is most interesting when these different stories interact in complex ways. Is Serenity about the Alliance manipulating minds or Mal's search for a purpose or River's progression from being essentially a disabled child to being a valuable member of the crew ?

To analyse the analysis 'River' appears almost exclusively as the object of verbs, and hence appears as someone who is manipulated by others throughout the film. I'd argue that throughout the film River gains confidence from the her new family aboard Serenity, disfunctional though it is, and takes many of the key actions that drive the plot.

Has Joss ever said in interviews whether he keeps background and planning notes in any particular format ?

[ edited by technovamp on 2006-02-21 15:26 ]
"I always find it annoying to read something about writing only to have spelling errors (or worse) throughout."

Yeah, if I didn't know better I'd think this guy was pulling a parody. In fact I don't know better. Reminds me of Jonathan Swift a little bit, and Swift always reminds me of the Millenium Vulcan, because, you know, most things do.

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