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Almost all of my “10 Lessons You Can Learn From” posts have dealt with classic, or at the very least, well-respected films. I’m not sure I’d put The Avengers on that list. It was a fun movie. But like a lot of summer movies, it was meant to be viewed once on a Saturday night with a theater full of teenagers. I don’t believe it’s meant to go toe-to-toe with any “respected” film. Having said that, I’m always breaking down films that are critically loved, with the film’s commercial success being secondary. As a commenter brought up the other day, “Why are you always knocking Transformers? It made a billion dollars worldwide. People saw it and enjoyed it.” It’s hard for me to quantify that statement. Yeah, people are going to see the movie, but they’re all 14 years old. I don’t know anyone over the age of 23 who actually enjoyed Transformers. But the commenter was right about one thing. SOMEONE is going to see these movies and enjoying them. So almost as a challenge, I thought it would be fun to look at the highest grossing movie of 2012 (by almost 200 million dollars) and see if we couldn’t extract 10 screenwriting tips from it – maybe figure out some screenwriting tips for the summer blockbuster writer. Here we go!

1) What’s your problem? – In most big budget movies, you want to introduce the problem in your story right away. Once you have a problem, you can begin introducing characters who are going to solve that problem. So here, that problem is the Tesseract. It opens up. Loki (the villain) comes through it. Now we got a problem.

2) Set-pieces are driven by URGENCY – Whenever you write a big action set-piece, you have to incorporate urgency in some way – preferably via a ticking time bomb. So here, after Loki arrives, the Tesseract’s lack of stability causes the building to start imploding, giving them only 2 minutes to get out. This makes the impending chase of Loki even more intense, as they must also escape the area before they’re destroyed along with it.

3) Refocus your script after set-pieces – Set pieces are fun and wild and crazy. But a mistake I find a lot of amateur writers making is that AFTER their set-piece, they don’t re-orient the reader. Remember, we were just in action mode. Enjoying explosions. Enjoying super-heroes fighting. Now that that’s over, we need to be re-briefed on our character goals. So immediately after that first set-piece in Avengers, Nick Fury gets on the phone and says, “The Tesseract’s been stolen by a hostile force. Everybody we know, I want them after it.” The goal has been established. We now know what we’re doing. This may SEEM obvious, but rarely do I see the new writer do it. They often assume you know what the goal is or, in drastic cases, don’t establish a goal at all.

4) Don’t get bogged down in exposition – You should always try to limit your exposition. That’s because exposition is boring. No matter how you dress it up, we’ll be bored by it. If there’s one major fault in The Avengers, it’s that once we get to the airship, we get about six or seven scenes of exposition and discussion. The film slows to a crawl as a result. Remember that your primary focus in any screenplay is to keep the story moving. Don’t get bogged down in exposition. One – or in drastic cases a maximum of two – scenes is enough.

5) Capture your villain – It’s hard to maintain a single unchanged plotline for an entire screenplay. If something’s unchanged for that long, there’s a good chance we’ll get bored with it. To keep things fresh, you want to “interrupt” that plotline with something unexpected. A perfect example is here with Loki. The plot COULD HAVE HAD the Avengers trying to find and destroy Loki the entire time. But Whedon switches things up by having us actually CAPTURE Loki, which adds a fresh new dynamic to the story. In general, you’re always looking to keep things fresh in your scripts, so you want to make unexpected choices whenever possible.

6) Once again, the best dialogue often results from conflict – Some of the best dialogue in Avengers is when Stark is battling it out with Captain America. Why? Because they’re on completely opposite ends of the personality spectrum. Stark is carefree and does whatever he wants. Captain America is uptight and follows orders. If you put any characters like that in a room together, the dialogue’s probably going to be good, so it’s not surprising it works here. Contrast this with the dialogue between Banner and Stark, who both respect each other. It’s not bad, but it’s not nearly as alive and fun as when Stark and Captain America talk.

7) If two characters don’t get along or don’t like each other, put them around each other a lot! – This is an extension of the last tip, and an important one. If you have two characters who don’t like each other, keep them around each other as much as possible. Make them work together! Note that when the airship loses an engine, Whedon doesn’t have Stark and Banner work on it together (they like each other!). He has Stark and Captain America work on it together.

8) Fights and battles must have high stakes or we won’t care – A lot of people complained that the Thor Iron Man fight in the forest was pointless, just an excuse to have Iron Man fight Thor. To a certain extent this was true. I mean, Thor did want to take Loki back to be tried on his planet and Iron Man refused to allow that unless Loki gave them the Tesseract. So there was SOME motivation to the fight. But let’s face it. It was weak. We didn’t really feel the stakes of the fight. So it was nice eye candy, but left us feeling empty. To fix this, always keep the stakes high in every fight/battle. In The Matrix, when Neo fights Smith in the subway, we know that if Smith kills him, the world is doomed. Neo is THE ONE, the only hope mankind has. So the impact of that fight hits us much harder and we’re therefore way more invested.

9) Set-pieces are about BUILDING – You don’t want to throw the kitchen sink at your characters right away during a set-piece. You want to slowly build it up. The set piece should feel like things are getting worse and worse for your heroes at every turn. So in that final battle in Avengers, where the portal opens up and the aliens arrive, first the small guys on speeders show up. When they’re handled, the big worm thing shows up. When they defeat that, MULTIPLE worms show up. There’s something about struggling to defeat something only to see it get much worse that really pulls an audience in.

10) Yup, even big summer movies (minus Transformers) have character arcs – Not everyone has to arc, but a couple of your characters should. Here, Stark needs to learn to buy into the team as opposed to only care about himself. Bruce Banner must learn to embrace his dark side instead of focusing his entire life on avoiding it. When these characters learn to overcome these issues, that’s how the Avengers win in the end.

These are 10 tips from the movie “The Avengers.” To get 500 more tips from movies as varied as “Aliens,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “The Hangover,” check out my book, Scriptshadow Secrets, on Amazon!

  • Poe_Serling

    No fair, Carson! When you said you had screenwriting tips from the Avengers, I was thinking more along the lines of something like this:

    Hulk’s dialogue tip: Brevity.

    Iron Man’s descriptive lines tip: Keep it streamlined.

    Captain America’s formatting tip: Make it squeaky clean. No cheating on margins or dialogue blocks.

    Thor’s setup/payoff tip: Tease with a flash of lightning, then hit them with the unexpected boom.

    Wish I had more… not really much of a comic book person. Plus, I only saw the movie once, so I’m not very familiar with the whole superhero universe.

    On a more serious note: Another fun and informative article. The tips I found most useful were 3, 6, and 10.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.lenihan1 Kevin Lenihan

      Good stuff.

      • Poe_Serling

        Thanks, man.

  • https://twitter.com/deanmaxbrooks deanb

    So basically, conflict, conflict, conflict. Okay, got it.

    What about writing those unique, character-driven one-liners. “I’m always angry” may not be 2012s “hasta la vista, baby,” (heck, it may not have even dethroned ID4′s “Welcome to earth!”) but it’s the closest meaningful one-liner I’ve heard in a summer tentpole in a while.

    • romer6

      Agree with you on that. The “I´m always angry” is awesome for a blockbuster. I mean, we, the audience, were waiting for that moment the whole movie! When would the most powerful Avenger show up? And then we learn from that line that he was always there… on the brink of showing up. I thought it to be pretty clever and a very smart choice of words. (I´m one of the comic book fans that really enjoyed the movie, as my avatar may let explicit).

    • garrett_h

      “And Hulk? (beat) SMASH…” was a pretty awesome line too imo.

      • carsonreeves1

        Good question. I don’t know the key to writing those one-liners because they always sound so cheesy to me. Coming up with one that doesn’t sound cheesy seems like it depends more on the acting than it does the line.

    • Ken

      “Puny God” is the best line in The Avengers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.lenihan1 Kevin Lenihan

    The practical nature of these type discussions makes them very helpful. Just want to say thanks,and hopefully they continue for a long time to come.

  • JakeBarnes12

    Saw this one in the theater; it was okay, obviously written for twelve-year-olds.

    As you say, Carson, there’s a LOT of exposition and I found myself zoning out every time someone started explaining stuff. I mean, it’s all garbage; why should I sit through this pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo?

    I remember a moment in the final battle where Loki’s staff gets knocked out of his hand and it’s central to his power, so the Black Widow goes after it… and gets it immediately. And I’m sitting there thinking, what the hell, here was an opportunity for TENSION, drag it out, make us sweat, something the movie sorely lacked, and instead they were just focusing on jokey dialogue and cheap, knock-em-down henchmen.

    The larger issue Marvel Films is facing is that all their movies are starting to feel the same; some good guy gets superpowers, then some bad guy gets superpowers, then they have a few fights. The end.

    Like every other fad, this superhero thing is going to run out of steam at some point unless Marvel does what isn’t in its DNA anymore — take a lot more narrative chances like they did when they hired a lot of stoner writers and artists in the 70s.

    • Ace Stephens

      Given how comics are known for killing off characters, you’d think they would have found a “tragic” way to kill off one of these “franchise” characters by now. Presumably leading to someone else taking up the mantle (at least for awhile) and allowing the other characters in the MCU to contemplate death in a more serious manner that impacts their arcs.

      And maybe a few films later or in the next big team-up movie, the dead character returns so that Marvel can keep its franchises intact. Of course, if they go long enough to kill a few major characters, their resurrections become trite – so some should probably stay dead then. But we’re not off to a very good start when the first person they use the “false death” gimmick on is a beloved but only loosely-branded side character.

    • Kieran ODea

      yea i almost walked out when they started talking about low energy gamma rays… ALL GAMMA RAYS ARE HIGH IN ENERGY! FFS! they are the most powerful form of Electromagnetic Waves. Even more powerful than x-rays so don’t go saying they are low energy!

  • carsonreeves1

    Great point. I was going to bring that up. Every character intro was exciting or intriguing. So important to intro your characters in interesting ways. Makes them more memorable for the read.

  • grendl

    What a dumb fucking movie from start to finish.

    You know J.D. Salinger said in his masterwork “Catcher in the Rye” “people always clap for the wrong things” and that’s precisely what the wild financial success of this film proved.

    First off, you have the wimp Loki, whose big dramatic arrival to Earth via the Tesserac of whatever the fuck it was called was punctuated finally by his getting a lift in a tricked out jeep. He may as well been on a skateboard a la Marty McFly and grabbed the fender.

    As opposed to the imposing Terminator, who inspired fear with his arrival. Loki looks like Data from Star Trek, and the fact that he’s outnumbered by like 23 superheroes almost made me root for him.

    And Carson’s dead right about the exposition-a-palooza aboard the airship. Somewhere I can see some of the actors demanding some sort of justification for their participation in a comic book movie so the writers obliged with a movie halting string of unbearably boring conversations akin to the Star Wars prequel C-Span in space segments in the Senate chambers.

    Then Iron man and Captain America, ( or was it the bow and arrow guy and Scarlet Witch- or black widow and swamp thing? ) having to go out and fix the engine creating a false bonding moment underscored just how empty brained this film was. They should have phoned Click and Clack from Car Talk and asked them, at least it would’ve been funny.

    Jeremy Renner’s character was pointless, feckless and every time they show his powers of archery it just made his purpose in the film even more puzzling.
    And females kicking ass as superheroes always seems dumb to me. I think women are kind of above the whole superhero genre, or at least would like to think so. There has to be someone in this world with adult sensibilities.

    And the power of females in film or in real life doesn’t come from the ability to knock someone unconscious, it’s always a little off when I see comic book nerds try to make that correlation. The only reason to have Wonder Woman, I mean the Scarlet Witch, I mean Electra Woman and Dyna Girl in this is for demographics, hoping to hit as wide an audience as possible.
    Explaining Sam Jackson’s inclusion. Just like in the Star Wars prequel. All a grab for cash.

    There was too much going on in the climax too, too many places to look onscreen. It’s as if the CGI artists were asked to bombard the audience with as much visual stimuli as possible to detract from the fact that the story had no real character arc, just the perfunctory obligatory Tony Stark’s realization yet again that he isn’t gods gift to the universe.

    How many times can you rehash that? Anyways. The lesson that can be culled from this film is that hype, and advertising and celebrity, and mass hypnosis is all you need to succeed in the movie industry. Writers can write this shit in their sleep.

    • Jean Robie

      I agree with this guy: the take-away from this movie is NOTHING REALLY MATTERS. A movie can lack craft, imagination, and intelligence and still gross $1 billion worldwide if people really really want to see it. The same is true of “The Hobbit,” in my opinion.

      • carsonreeves1

        I don’t know. I think there’s still a quality difference between these huge blockbusters. The Avengers got it right in my opinion. Way better than movies like Transformers and G.I. Joe and Battleship, which were awful.

        • Jean Robie

          Personally I think the quantitative difference between The Avengers and those other movies is the movies based on comic books at least have real characters as a starting point–characters people love. The others movies are based on toys–and not toys, like say “Barbie,” that have long-loved characters–and so you have to put up with, for instance, Shia LeBouef playing someone you have no investment in. Also there’s a kind of ick factor with the toy-based movies–they just seem like they exist to sell more toys, rather than have inherent reasons for being.

      • Ken

        “Lack of craft, imagination and intelligence”. Did you see a different movie to me?

    • Somersby

      I’m with Jake and Grendl on this one.

      I loved the Marvel and DC comics when I was a kid. As simple and straightforward as the characters were, the writers and artists still managed to transfix readers with that awesome and magical notion of what it must be like to possess super powers.

      To a young mind, the comic books were so effective because they created a powerful sense of wonder and possibility. And that’s where the current string of superhero/supervillan film franchises fail. They offer absolutely zero allure and mystery. Everything is delivered with astounding visuals and sound, but there’s just no magic, no wonder. They’re film’s equivalent to fast food. Filling, but forgettable and uninspired.

      • Midnight Luck

        “film’s equivalent to fast food”

        exactly. well said.

        And we all get real tired of fast food, fast. Too much and you’re a bloated whale, and as you said, it’s completely unmemorable.

        I read X-Men and Silver Surfer and a slew of others as a kid. You are most definitely right. They allowed you to create this magical world in your head and be amazed by the wonder.

        The movies spoon feed you everything in blaring surround sound with gaudy special effects. They leave Nothing to the imagination. They give no subtlety, which allows for imagination to bloom.

        I think the best Superhero movie in a long time was Kick-Ass. It had that magical quality I remember as a kid. It let your mind expand and dream. And we had never heard of the Superhero’s in it. So it didn’t matter if they were Iron man or Aqua Man or the Green Lantern / Hornet.

      • W. X. Wall

        “They’re film’s equivalent to fast food”. Exactly. But here’s the thing: do you know how much time and effort and planning McDonald’s puts into its fast food? They spend millions of dollars, and employ food scientists, taste testers, human factors engineers, etc. etc. (to say nothing of the marketing and stuff) to figure out how best to deliver a safe, tasty, consistent product throughout the world using “cooks” who are high school students. They study and calibrate everything from the exact amount of salt on the french fries to the exact amount of time to heat up a Big Mac.

        IOW, don’t dismiss how hard it is to create good fast food. Now does this mean that you should incorporate all of McDonald’s practices to your own cooking when you’re trying to make a sophisticated dinner for two? Of course not. But if you study McDonald’s, there may be a tip or two that you might be able to use.

        I think that’s the point of Carson’s article. The skills employed in writing a summer blockbuster aren’t the same as an intimate low-budget drama. But dismissing a summer blockbuster as having *no* writing skill at all is doing a disservice to it and ignoring a potential learning opportunity. And if you do want to write a summer blockbuster, then it pays to realize there actually *is* more to it than slapping together a huge budget and a bunch of stars.

    • JakeMLB

      I won’t argue that the film was a masterpiece, but you might want to look a little harder at the script if you really think it’s as empty-brained as you believe it to be. I posted a link below of a thorough and thought-provoking breakdown of The Avengers script by Todd Alcott (Antz) but it’s worth reposting here. Have a read then reflect on whether every writer can write this in their sleep. I’m of the opinion that very, very few can pull a script like this off. It might not change your opinion of the film, but if you’re interested in the craft, it does yield great insight.

      http://www.toddalcott.com/the-avengers-part-1.html

      • grendl

        I didn’t have to read the script or analysis of “Jaws”, “Rocky”, “Tootsie” “The Godfather” , or “Batman Begins” to enjoy those films.

        And “Avengers” was a narrative clusterfuck of superheroes trying to justify their presence in the film unsuccessfully.

        I am interested in the craft. That’s why when I see a scene of endless exposition delivered on that airship. being told what should be shown, and the sniping of superheroes who act like twelve year olds, all I can think is this sure is going to sell a lot of action figures and merchandise.

        Here’s something for you to watch, a two time Oscar winning screenwriter explain how sequels are crap and made only for money. ( argue with Mr. Goldman please not me )

        http://cinephilearchive.tumblr.com/post/40646072609

        While Avengers technically is the first in what I’m sure will be a long excruciating series, it attempts to meld Thor and Iron man, and in the process spawn some other series as well. And it’s all for money. Not an ounce of real passion, nothing but cynical money grubbing spectacle with elements mimicking story, but not really story.

        Just because a lot of shit happens doesn’t make it a story. And these retarded superheroes not getting along, then getting along, we can see that on Sesame Street any day of the week. It’s not remotely interesting or deep, unless you’re someone who’s never had sex in your life. Geek fanboys love this wish fulfillment stuff but adults like me and William Goldman couldn’t give a shit really.

        • JakeMLB

          It’s easy to write something off without reading it, isn’t it?

          You’re pointing to some of the best films in the history of filmmaking. How many films will ever reach those heights? This is a comic book film revolving around a band of pre-established superheroes and you point to single-protagonist Oscar winners as comparables?

          Exactly what kind of depth were you hoping to find?

          I’m no fanatic of the flick but there is skill on display here. What did you honestly expect out of this film? It’s a comic book film for comic book fans. The Watchmen is probably the only comparable.

          And quoting William Goldman and then placing yourself in the same conversation speaks more to your geek fanboy wish fulfillment than that of individuals who can appreciate a comic book tentpole flick for what it is.

          These films have a place in Hollywood whether you like it or not. Not every film can be a masterpiece. You seem to have trouble understanding that.

          • grendl

            “Batman Begins” is not one of the best films in the history of filmmaking. But’s it’s good and a lot more compelling than your “Avengers” movie, which again has no narrative through lines, and those it starts it doesn’t finish.
            It’s empty fluff. It’s a bombardment of our senses, with nothing tangible for our brains.
            And you quote a comic movie geek I’ll quote the writer of “Butch Cassidy” and “All the Presidents Men”. Let’s not get into a pissing contest who wants to be whom. The comment of wish fulfillment is aimed at ineffectual simp writers and fan boys who thrill at the spectacle of men in spandex.
            If that’s your idea of entertainment, so be it. It’s not mine. And I’m entitled not to like that genre without you citing some long winded and skewed geek breakdown. If you want to discuss a specific article I’d be glad to .

          • JakeMLB

            We can agree to disagree then ;)

            To be honest, I’m no fan of the film. I found it enjoyable but not so much that I’d re-watch it. I did however find the analysis of the script enlightening (if you can read the entire analysis and find nothing in it that can inform your work as a writer then you’re a better man than I) and one can’t ignore the success both at the box office and critically. Let’s not forget that it scored a 92% on RT. A 92%. So while it may have not been your cup of tea, it’s silly to write a film like this off simply because it doesn’t match your standards. As writers we should appreciate or at least try to understand and learn from all forms of writing regardless of whether we find personal satisfaction from them.

          • grendl

            We deserve better and apologists for mediocrity and brainless stabs for cash are the problem.
            You didn’t get any money from the “Avengers”.
            And hey if you were entertained that’s fine. I was bored. We’ll have to agree to disagree. No article you post changes the movie experience.

        • Midnight Luck

          Hey Grendl,

          That was an awesome video with Goldman. I had never seen it, but man, thanks for posting. I absolutely love that guy. I’ve read his books and followed him for a long, long time. Somehow missed that video though.

          Really, thanks, I am so glad to have seen it. The guy is as cool as cool gets.

          • grendl

            Check out the rest of that websites archives. It’s one of the best on the internet.

        • Ken

          William Goldman isn’t perfect, grendl. He wrote the script for Absolute Power, remember?

  • J.R.

    My problem with this movie was the dialogue. The cheesiness of it all irked me so bad that I’m hesitant to take any lessons at all from this movie. Carson managed to glean some protips from it though.

    Also, I whole heartily agree with #4. It’s probably the main reason that I won’t give the movie another viewing. It’s a killer for sure.

    • lisap

      I agree I thought the dialogue was incredibly cheesy…and there are some major issues with the pacing as well….but like a slow motion train wreck…I love watching this movie just to figure out how/why it fails.

  • Citizen M

    #9, otherwise known as the “Oh shit” moment. Every time you think you’ve won, something worse must appear. You have to ratchet up the tension.

  • JakeMLB

    Great stuff Carson.

    Those wanting a more in-depth analysis should really check out Todd Alcott’s (Antz) excellent scene-by-scene breakdown:

    http://www.toddalcott.com/the-avengers-part-1.html

  • klmn

    11) Put silly costumes on your characters. Audiences go batshit crazy for that stuff.
    Some, like James Holmes, too batshit crazy.

  • Midnight Luck

    I am sure people will stone me for what I am about to say, about the Avengers and about Whedon.

    I am sorry, but this was a movie filled with all the “don’ts” in my book.
    Mainly #1, “Don’t be Boring”!

    Yes it made a bazillion dollars. Does anyone care about it a week after they saw it? No.

    It was the most Boring comic book movie ever (aside from Thor, which was terrible).

    I know everyone on here is IN LOVE with Whedon, but, sorry, he is a hack. The stories he makes are so average, so uninspired, so boring, it is brutal. And full of Cheese.

    I still can’t believe I saw this (and Green Lantern, which is tied with Thor for the worst Superhero movie Ever) in the theater. I knew it would stink, but somehow someone got me to go. And it stunk like Chicken Manure.

    From this breakdown I still don’t see what we can learn from the writing that made this movie successful. All that made it work was a HUGE marketing campaign built up through all the other movies and their tie-ins to this one.

    This. was. really. bad.

    The screenplay didn’t do anything interesting, unique, nothing outside the box, didn’t surprise me once, I could telegraph what dialogue was coming, what was about to happen, what Feelings it wanted me to feel, etc.

    And why choose the most boring characters to center your story on? Loki? and Thor? Couldn’t someone have come up with something better? After all the zillions of comics and all the Bad Guys over the years, that story was already painful in Thor, and now we get to watch the two brothers bitch slap each other because Daddy doesn’t love Me, or Daddy loves YOU more! Ugh, excruciating.

    If anyone can tell me why this movie made so much money aside from the millions in Marketing and tie ins, I would love to know. It most definitely WAS NOT the script.

    • Rudyard Olejnik

      I agree a lot of this. very forgetful movie. I also find Joss Wheadon to be a poor mans Paul Dini. He over saturates the view with off the cuff quips and topical jokes. His plot and stakes are poor and I found Black Widows way of interrogation and how she came to conclusions completely fabricated. If you read the dialogue between her and Loki there is nothing in there that leads to her conclusion. It was just pulled out of her rear.

  • ripleyy

    Why was Transformers so bad again? Oh, yeah, I believe it done well because it aimed to ENJOY and not be a defining screenplay many will remember for years. Let’s face it: it’s enjoyable. Transformers done well because its sole purpose was to make people want to see it and enjoy it.

    That said, Avengers was fun too and, of course, the tips were also good and I feel quite ashamed for being the one who let most of those tips slip through my fingers so I have something to learn from now.

    One thing i do know, though, is that building your set-pieces is crucial. With each set-piece, it should get difficult but it should also have a reason. There has to be some sort of function behind it.

    • carsonreeves1

      I feel the way about Transformers that Grendl feels about The Avengers. Transformers isn’t just an awful screenplay, but an awful movie, in my opinion. The best way I can describe it is that I’m not sure it made a single good choice. :)

      • ripleyy

        I have the amazing gift of switching off so I say I enjoy it but what I’m really saying is, is that I switched off and went on “stand-by” mode, powering down. I’m not even sure what I saw was good.

    • fragglewriter

      I didn’t watch Avengers as I hated Captain America, but your point about dramas incorporating set-pieces is brilliant. I’m writing a drama now, but there is no need for explosion, but if I write another, I will keep your tip in mind.

  • denisniel

    I think another good trick with this kind of movie is to take yourself seriously in not taking yourself too seriously… The Avengers is a fun movie, because in a general way it’s funny. Now, look at these other blockbusters like Battleship and Transformers and GIJoe… They’re supposed to be fun, however they’re everything BUT funny…
    I’m not trying to be a comedy NAZI here, but I really believe there’s no fun without at least a considerable deal of funny.

  • Kieran ODea

    I love these tips! Even though I’ve read your book and many others these tips serve as great reminders that I can tap into while writing.

  • UrbaneGhoul

    I enjoyed it when I saw at the cinema. I usually have a snarky response to when someone says to turn your brain off like I need my brain to enjoy stuff but this was one where you don’t think too much. Probably the worst thing to happen to it for me was seeing it again on PPV. It’s all day and watching it almost all day, it didn’t really stick. Empty feeling is right.

  • Midnight Luck

    see it is odd, because everyone is hating the first Transformers (second was garbage, never bothered after that), but to me, it was way more FUN than most all the recent Superhero movies, save the first Iron Man. I never owned a Transformer or any kind of toy like that, never watched the cartoon, never cared about any of it. But for some reason many times Michael Bay can make certain movies really fun. Transformers succeeded. The underdog kid put into an out of this world situation, the guy who never gets the girl, gets THE girl. I mean for all the talk on this site of people always rooting for an underdog, that was the basis of the first T movie.

    The Avengers on the other hand. No underdogs, everyone is an over achiever, everyone is Super-Super powerful, no one is going to fail (or we couldn’t have a sequel), and as has been pointed out, no one is going to die. There are absolutely NO stakes. We could give a crap. Just a bunch of people running around having simple minded arguments with other super power people, fighting and bickering with each other for reasons I can’t even understand (meaning no reason). Then insert some sort of other world portal with big boring creatures crossing into our world, and blow a bunch of shit up and we are supposed to care? about? Never did I think they were in danger of not succeeding, never did I worry they might not “save” the planet. Ridiculous. It was just a pointless movie, and the most un-fun experience I have had in a long time.

    I think it could be used to write an article on “What NOT to write if you want to keep your soul.”, of course it could also be used to write an article titled : “What to write in a weekend – to fleece a billion dollars from people around the world”.

    The second article would get lots of followers and be a huge success.

  • Saint Croix

    Avengers is awesome. What a great movie. I was amazed at how they worked Hulk into the story. Both Hulk movies are bad. Hulk is like a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story, so that’s kind of boring. I never liked the comic book. Hulk sucks. And the Avengers? The Hulk is awesome. Best part is when Loki tells Hulk what a god he is, and Hulk picks him up and goes whack, whack, whack. That is awesome visual humor. And this was maybe the first movie I have seen where I was impressed with the CGI. The Hulk was fantastic.
    Another reason to study the Avengers is when you have multiple characters in your movie, as opposed to one protag. You have to give every character their place in the sun. The climax was fantastic in this regard. Jumping from character to character to character to character, as we saw all these different facets of one giant battle. And I’m convinced this is a huge part of the screenwriting craft: transitions. What makes filmmaking different from every other art form is editing. You are cutting from scene to scene. And sometimes you even have to transition within the scene. The Avengers does a fantastic job of carrying us into the next scene. We are being yanked from one character to another, from one story to another. The transitions in the Avengers are fantastic.

    • carsonreeves1

      Great point about the CGI. For a movie this cartoony, you’d expect to see a lot of CGI-ness. But it was all pretty seamless.

  • Montana Gillis

    11. Don’t have your “Final Battle / Climax” go on and on and on until it’s 6 hours past the bed time for the average14 year old. Yawn… Did we really have to watch each and every Avenger dispatch over 100 bad guys? Who decided the order in which each Avenger would show their special techniques/powers for killing the ice guys from what yawn ever planet they were from? and why should I give a shit when the outcome is never in question? Yawn…

  • Dane Purk

    I think it’s a crime to compare Transformers to The Avengers. Avengers actually has a good script, believe it or not. THAT’S why so people went to see the movie and why it was a critical success. I really don’t see any other way that you could juggle that many major characters so effortlessly and still have a coherent summer blockbuster. This is not a “watch it one time” movie at all. The character of it is what adds replay value. Some of the best moments took place in between set pieces with simple dialogue, which I think is a huge accomplishment, considering how explosive and epic most of the action scenes were. I don’t think the character moments and exposition slowed down the movie at all. I think with that many characters you HAVE to give them time. If the script just “keeps moving” then you never get reminded of who you’re fighting for, which characters you love, and you get another shitty action movie (A Good Day to Die Hard).

    I own this movie on Blu ray and have watched it several times. It sets a good example for me on how to make individual characters stand out, even if there are a lot of them and things are blowing up everywhere.

    We need more movies like this in the action genre, for sure.

    • Ken

      Well said, Dane.

  • Saint Croix

    I disagree. Most movies–particularly Hollywood movies–have a hero and a villain. Super-hero movies are simply bigger versions of a very basic Hollywood conflict, good vs. evil. You can easily compare a movie like the Avengers to a John Wayne or a Humphrey Bogart movie. Good vs. evil. And the Avengers is spectacular at giving us different versions of good, finding shades of gray. For instance Hulk is both evil and good. Hulk is unpredictable. Iron Man is always heroic but Tony Stark is always unpredictable. He’s kinda bad, very egotistical. SHIELD has the vibe of a kinda good/kinda evil government outfit. Captain America does not really trust SHIELD. The Avengers does a fantastic job of having good guys flirt with becoming bad guys, of fighting each other, of being selfish. Yes, it’s very broad, for the wider audience, but you should study the Avengers for lessons on heroism, and how to draw heroes and make them interesting.

    • Saint Croix

      You could easily compare The Avengers to Michael Clayton, which is a fantastic screenplay and a very “adult” movie. And yet that movie is a very basic conflict about good and evil, and how good people can slide into evil. The Avengers is a more visual representation of this inner conflict.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaun.snyder.35 Shaun Snyder

    I think my problem with The Avengers has to do with the fact that I’m sick of superhero movies. The truth is, The Avengers did a lot of things right, and was similar to Star Wars in a lot of ways (I didn’t say AS GOOD as Star Wars…I said similar). It was a fun movie with some great set pieces, but the characters were the focus. Of course, it helped that all of the characters had been previously established. The third act was a blast, and the tone of the film was perfect, too. So, even though it had its problems (the plot was dull and forgettable; Loki was a weak villain; and, like Carson said, too much exposition), and even though I didn’t love it, it was definitely fun to watch once.

  • JakeBarnes12

    If you’re interested in Marvel, I can highly recommend Sean Howe’s recent unauthorized history, “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” which traces the company all the way from the Timely days (1940s) to the release of The Avengers last year.

    The most important takeaway for a writer was that an unending narrative degenerates into repetition and mediocrity. Marvel’s books are designed to be read by young males for a few years, then the reader matures and moves on to other things. Those who stay behind, who are reading Marvel comic books into their 30s or later, naturally become jaded because they are there long enough to see everything repeated with at best minor variations.

    The central quote from Stan Lee to his editors and writers, sums it all up perfectly: “we must provide the ILLUSION of change.” So a character may be dead for a while, but will of course return, usually with a new number 1 issue to drive up sales.

    At this point the individual books are selling well under 100,000 issues, which is peanuts, and exist largely to serve the billion-dollar movie division.

    What stands out from Howe’s book is that while in his account of the 70s he can point to groundbreaking and daring art and storytelling in the form of Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck, Don McGregor’s Black Panther and Killraven, Englehart’s Watergate-era Captain America and Doctor Strange, Jim Starlin’s Warlock, etc., by the time he gets to the 2000s almost no great story runs are mentioned — it’s all bloated, cliched “events” that often make little narrative sense and run through multiple books for the sole purpose of driving up sales.

    While “The Avengers” is probably as good as a corporate product could be, it is clearly the result of the kind of safe, by numbers storytelling with all jagged edges smoothed that Marvel’s Excel jockeys demand. Yes, Joss Whedon did some good character and dialogue work, but the story itself was weak and predicable.

    What we need from future superhero movies is some true “whoa, didn’t see that coming!” storytelling, otherwise mass audiences will grow tired of these muscle men in tight clothes.

  • sheebshag

    Anyone paid any attention the protests from the VFX community following this year’s Oscars? It’s interesting as it in some way mirror the WGAw strike not so long ago.

    To make a long story short, the VFX studio Rhythm and Hues basically filed for bankruptcy as they won their (second?) oscar for the movie Life of Pi (VFX studios are going out of business due to outsourcing to other countries). When they received the award on stage and tried to turn their thanks speech into a little bit of a political statement about the state of the industry, they were abruptly played off by the orchestra. The director of Life of Pi, Ang Lee, have added insult to injury with his statement that VFX guys are too expensive.

    I thought it was appropriate to post this here as Avengers is one of those movies that relies heavily on VFX work.

    Here’s one take on the matter:
    http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/the-visual-effects-community-sees-red-in-the-wake-of-oscar-protest-and-on-air-snub (note: the article is 2 pages)

    Excerpt:

    “Dear Hollywood,

    You schooled us pretty hard the last time there was a WGAw strike. You made a pretty convincing case for a Hollywood without writers, and while we’ll never admit it to you as a group, you broke us. You really did. And it has ruined the industry that I love in a million small ways that you’re not even going to notice for a decade or so, and when you do, it may well be too late. You fought us over money and your right to more of it, and you hurt us enough to make us take a deal that we knew in our hearts was not right.

    If you try to do the same thing to the VFX industry, you are going to lose.”
    END EXCERPT.

    I also thought this reader comment was funny (might even be some truth to it):

    “Screenwriters joke about having the least respected job in Hollywood. They should meet the vfx artists.”

  • Cambias

    I would add an 11th lesson: Love Your Source Material. One of the biggest problems with superhero movies in the past is that moviemakers seem to be a little embarrassed to be making a movie based on a comic book. So they either try to make it “darker and edgier” or they play the whole thing for camp.

    Avengers, whatever flaws it might have in storytelling, embraces the comic book material it’s based on. There’s a flying aircraft carrier, there’s an invasion by aliens led by a Norse god, there’s adolescent soap opera personality conflicts — and plenty of punching. The movie plays it all straight, and as a result it taps into what made comic books so appealing.

    I think this can be a general rule and I wish more moviemakers followed it. If you’re making a comic book superhero movie, then make a comic book superhero movie. If you’re making a spy movie, make a spy movie. Do it right and love your source material.

  • DD

    I was really disappointed by this movie, but I’m not the biggest fan of the superhero genre. Iron Man is a great movie. Dark Knight is a great movie that’s way darker than it has any right to be. Spiderman 2 is a great movie. Captain America was a fun movie. But this was just TOO MUCH superhero. It’s sooo much action. I was left numb by it. And Black Widow and Hawkeye were totally pointless. I like Whedon, but this was just a popcorn movie with above average dialouge. Nothing to write home about.

    • cjob3

      I really hated those two as well. Definitely weak links who got way too much screentime. It should have been the original line up with (Simon Pegg’s) Ant-Man and Wasp. y’know, people with actual super-powers.

  • cjob3

    One thing that bugged me in Avengers is how they dismissed the cliffhanger from “Thor.” The two (literally) star-crossed lovers were separated in the end. I was hoping Avengers with start with Natalie Portman reopening the portal to Asgurard and bringing Thor back to earth (and with him Loki) Instead, they ignored all that.

    • Ken

      In the movie it is mentioned that they have moved Portman’s character to a hidden location to protect her from any future attacks from Loki.

      • cjob3

        Yeah, I know but that’s what I mean, they just brushed it aside inside of working it into the script. Their love was made out to be such a big deal in Thor, I wouldn’t think he’d return to Earth and not see her – but clearly they wanted to save that reunion for the Thor sequel – so to me if felt a little clunky how they handled it.

  • Ken

    The Thor/Iron Man fight took place earlier in the story, so the stakes didn’t have to be as high compared to if the skirmish took place later in the tale. As you commented, Carson, there was a reason for the fight (Thor wants to take Loki back to Asgard, etc) – and you also have to remember that this sequence was actually Thor’s introduction to the Avengers movie, which I think is a pretty memorable inro. Plus – it is a Marvel comics convention that in team-up style stories the heroes (who will finally join forces) fight each other to begin with: so this illustrates the writer/director’s knowledge of the material he’s adapting. I see that The Matrix is highlighted as a movie where all fights have high stakes. Is that true? There are low-stakes fights in Matrix that are purely scenes of Neo learning to use kung fu. This works because ‘student-learning-kung-fu’ scenes are important features in martial arts movies (a Wachowski influence) and so this is appropriate to the Matrix story – just as the Thor/Iron Man fight is appropriate to The Avengers.

    • cjob3

      Awesome intro. I thought the movie really came to life when Thor came into it.

      • Ken

        I agree. I like the fight in the woods between Thor and Iron Man/Captain America: some great visuals and the snappy ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ quip from Tony Stark.

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