The Stakes In Every Story Are Always Life And Death – Alan Watt [Founder of L.A. Writers' Lab]

The Stakes In Every Story Are Always Life And Death - Alan Watt [Founder of L.A. Writers' Lab]

Film Courage: Okay then I’ll give you my
version of a marginalized voice in a story versus a middle class one [first world problems]. A marginalized one is a little girl wants
to go to a birthday party but the friends in the neighborhood…the mothers know that
her mom cleans people’s houses for a living. The [pack] of moms respond with “Oh…honey…she’s
nice but we don’t really know her. I’m so sorry.” The middle class voice is someone is applying
for colleges but it turns out most of her friends are getting accepted into college
and she’s not sure if her GPA is good enough to get into the school her friends will all
attend. And [the protagonist] is like “Oh my gosh,
I’m going to lose all of my high school friends. What’s going to happen to my social standing
in this group?” Alan Watt, Author/Screenwriter and [Founder
of L.A. Writers' Lab]: Okay so these are like seeds of story right? So tell me what is your question? Film Courage: My question is are the stakes
higher for the author of the marginalized voice where that story implies non-inclusion
into a group? Whereas the middle class story has a protagonist
more worried about losing social footing or losing touch with friends? Are the stakes higher for one versus the other? Al: I don’t think of stakes…gosh? I don’t know how to answer that question. I don’t think the stakes are about the actual
situation. The stakes are really about the ability of
the writer to convey a sense of urgency or anxiety. In other words…we’re not really talking
about dilemma, we’re talking about stakes. The stakes should always be life and death
in every story. They are always life and death. If Jan Brady doesn’t get a date with Tad
Hamilton she will absolutely die! Stakes are always life and death. If they are anything less than life and death,
we don’t care at all. We don’t care at all. If you want to talk about dilemma, there are
two ingredients to dilemma. So dilemma is a problem that can’t be solved
without creating another problem. And when you connect to your dilemma you’re
connecting to the aliveness in your story. There are two ingredients to a dilemma: A
powerful want, a powerful desire and a false belief. A misperception of myself or the world. And so when Sally loves me, then I’ll be
complete. Now that’s the beginning of the story. I’ve got to get Sally to love me in order
to be complete. Do you see a powerful desire…if Sally doesn’t
love me my life will be unimaginable. And the false belief is that Sally will complete
me. So we’ve got a powerful desire. Remember that story structure is desire, surrender,
transformation. We’ve got to surrender, I mean I’m going
to have to let go of the meaning I make out of my goal as long as I believe that Sally’s
love complete’s me, I will forever be in bondage to Sally or my idea of Sally’s love
because…and the audience or the reader is going to be disappointed if all that happens
at the end of the story is that Sally loves me. If Jimmy Stewart left Bedford Falls at the
end of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE we would be disappointed because that’s not what the
story is about. The plot is will Sally love me. The them is about completeness. What does it mean to be complete? It doesn’t mean that completeness comes
from outside of ourselves, it comes from within. Okay so that’s a dilemma. The dilemma is what is the theme? It’s completeness. If you’re doing a story about justice. Let’s say I’m in prison…or freedom. Let’s say this is a story about what does
it mean to be free. So if I’m in prison and I want to be free
I might believe at the beginning of the story that when I escape then I’ll be free. That’s dilemma, that’s the dramatic question. And then through the story I might actually
succeed in escaping and discover that I’m still not free. That could be the dark night of the soul. Let’s say I escape and I’m with a buddy
and we’re shackled and we get away and the he trips and twists his ankle and now I’ve
got to decide do I really want to be free. Now I’ve got to take a blunt instrument
and hurt my buddy, you know what I mean. And now am I free? They are chasing after me. So in my attempt to become free, in your protagonist
attempt to get what he or she wants, the movie increasingly away from their desire. So my attempt to be free moves me further
away from freedom leading to the end of Act 2 where I have to let go of the meaning I
made out of my goal…i.e. when I escape prison, then I’ll be free. End of Act 2 I discover that true freedom
comes from within and I might discover at the end of the story that freedom might involve
going back to prison. Taking responsibility for my crime. So that’s the shift in perception. So desire (I want to be free), surrender (I
have to let go of the meaning of my false belief of what freedom means) and transformation
(I have a new understanding of freedom). Film Courage: I think you had used the movie
THE SOCIAL NETWORK in another interview I watched. Can you use that analogy as well because I
found it interesting. Al: Oh…yes…that was a long time ago. So the dilemma of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the
tension between integrity and ambition. So if I’m really ambitious and I want to
make a billion dollars…it’s the same kind of thing. I set out on this quest. But did I steal this idea from these two gorgeous
twins? Film Courage: [Laughs] They were quite handsome. Al: And so that’s what THE SOCIAL NETWORK
explores. Every single scene examines the dilemma of
integrity versus ambition. So he is driven by his ambition. What do I want? I want to succeed. What do I need? I need to do the right thing? And I think it’s kind of an ambiguous ending
but it leaves us with that question (does the end satisfy the means)…or something
like that?


  • Михаил Бреннер says:

    It helps. TY.

  • Honna Shankara says:


  • Inspirational word says:

    I just bought his book. Love film courage.

  • DimensionZombie says:



  • pnsmexico says:

    Wow, simply wow.

  • Malik Arran says:

    Rather quaint appraisal of peoples' stories. It's either a high stakes gamble or completely irrelevant. What about if you're in an environment where every single day is life and death for over a decade plus? Do you have any fucking idea what that does to a person? You have people who just aren't afraid of death anymore, actually want to die, and success is just an arbitrary finish line that doesn't matter in the slightest (sort of like "Mission Accomplished"). In other words, GO FUCK YOURSELF. I don't give a shit if you don't care about my stories about LIFE rather than DEATH. You're the kinds of assholes who didn't care years ago and weren't helping WHEN IT ACTUALLY MATTERED, and now, NOW you want to be entertained? FUUUUUUUUUCCK YOOOOOOUUU!!!!!

  • joseafalvel says:

    awesome explanation !! great job as usual Film Courage

  • Brandon Cannon says:

    @Film Courage how do story creators walk the fine line between using existing stories as inspiration and creating something unique?

  • Blender Dumbass says:

    I written the script already. Actually MY favorete movie of all time ( AI Artificial Intelligence ) has this kind a thing. David want Monika to love him. In the end HE GET'S IT. And it's is weird. To the point that I always cry.

  • Geo Zero says:

    I read it as Steaks and Dimentia.

    Wow. Need to get eyesight checked.

  • Film Courage says:

    Do this help you with the dilemma in the story you are working on now?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *