Barri Evins interviews writers David Diamond & David Weisman revealing their unique techniques that elevate scripts and propelled them to career success.
The chance to sit down with screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman was one that I jumped at. As wrote in my blog, Confessions of a Screenwriting Fangrrl, beyond being an admitted storyaholic, when I read truly great writing, I develop a bit of a crush on the writers. I have been crushing long and hard on The Davids. My interview with them went on so long, I fell just short of needing to be tossed out. It generated enough material for two articles. If you missed Part One, you can read it here. I received some great nuggets of wisdom about the unique techniques they have devised to create and develop elevated stories. It has served them well over the course of their career. They share their innovative techniques for how to write a screenplay in their new book on screenwriting, Bulletproof: Writing Scripts That Don’t Get Shot Down. You can read my review of Bulletproof, “Something New and “Bulletproof” Under the ‘How to Write A Screenplay’ Sun”here.
Here’s a quick rundown of their career and credits:
David Diamond and David Weissman’s partnership is rooted in a 30-year friendship dating to their high school days in Philadelphia. The partners sold their first spec script, The Whiz Kid, to 20th Century Fox in 1994. They followed with a series of original ideas for comedies, including Universal Pictures’ The Family Man starring Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni. Diamond and Weissman next wrote the DreamWorks Pictures sci-fi comedy Evolution, directed and co-produced by Ivan Reitman. In 2005, the team partnered with Wedding Crashers producer Andrew Panay on a series of feature comedies that yielded five consecutive pitch sales and two additional produced credits: the farce Old Dogs, starring John Travolta and Robin Williams, and the romantic comedy When In Rome, starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel. Their first television pitch sold to 20th Television and CBS; the resulting pilot starred John Leguizamo and Claire Forlani. More pilot sales at NBC, ABC, FOX, and TBS, for both half-hour comedies and one-hour dramas, followed. Together, Diamond and Weissman have conceived and contributed to over a dozen movies yielding a combined box office gross of over a billion dollars worldwide.
Barri Evins: What I love most about your work is the way you use every single character, secondary characters, tertiary characters, to represent a point of view on the message of the movie ��� the theme. I can see this in your movie, The Family Man. Each role, even the small ones, has significance in the story and reflects the theme. These techniques make the story rich and compelling and one of my favorite films. As opposed to character bios, you have created a method you dubbed “The Chart.”
David Diamond: We really use it in our own movies, and we did it most successfully in The Family Man. it's not a perfect movie, but it's very well done in that movie.
David Weisman: That’s the Pixar Effect. When Pixar develops something, they don't back into a date. They develop it until it’s ready to make.
Evins: I’ve written about Pixar's philosophy and techniques that shape their process and how much writers can learn from it.
Weissman: We developed The Family Man until it was ready to make. It was a long journey, it was five years, and we were on it the whole time. It really goes to the techniques of creating the foundation and the architecture. The one-pager is a step that everybody does. The outline is a step that everybody does. And the script is a step that everybody does. The Chart is not a step that everybody does. It's really something that we started doing because we recognized that there was a real value in a step that came as an intermediate step between the one-pager and the outline. If we told the story of the movie from multiple different perspectives, it helped us understand the movie. It helped us understand that the movie is more than just this one character's journey. It's a lot of characters working together.
Diamond: There were two things going on. It came up organically for us because we were trying to understand the story from every character's point-of-view to help us write the characters better, and to help us make the scenes better. Here’s what’s not in the book: I think that in the really great movies, every character has a point of view related to the theme of the movie. The Family Man is a movie about the relationship between love and ambition. You can take every character in that movie and put them at some point on the spectrum from ambition to love, and see where they fall.
Diamond: Casablanca is about Rick’s journey from cynicism to belief – belief largely defined – belief in love, belief in freedom. You can take every single character in that movie, from Louis, to Ferrari, to Ugarte, to the couple who wants to make money so she doesn’t have to sleep with Louis, every character, big and small, and you can put them on that spectrum from cynicism to belief. That’s what makes Casablanca such an unbelievably rich and delicious movie.
Diamond: That’s what we’re trying to do. Identify the theme and where the character sits within that theme and then where does every other character sit. We give the character a point of view relative to the protagonist in the movie, and we track that point of view from beginning to end. Even if they are a tertiary character. These techniques elevate the characters in the script.
Evins: “The Meld” is another or your innovative techniques, used to integrate all the work you have put into the story up to this point. Could you break down how you create The Meld?
Diamond: It starts as a mechanical process, putting together the journeys of those characters and the one-pager, in a linear sequence.
Weissman: If you have The Chart – which is not in sequence necessarily, because certain characters aren’t even in the movie at certain times, while the protagonist in the movie at every beat. The Meld takes all those beats – some of them are just different perspectives on the same beat, some of them are beats on their own – it puts that together in a narrative, linear story form. The Meld is the proto outline. It's the first stab at an outline. When you do The Meld, you will adapt it into your outline because it will have the linear structure.
Diamond: It will give you your story in chronological order, with each character's role in the movie. What it doesn't give you – and this is the next step of the outline phase is, “I know what the beats are, how are we going to do it? What does it look like?”
Weissman: Once The Meld is done, you have to go back and adapt it, because the same beat will sometimes be written from many different character's perspectives. Now you have to take that beat and figure out a way to have all of those points of view as a part of it. And then that becomes your outline. Because you have to add to it to become an outline. You have to add transitions. You have to add where the scene takes place. Is there a more interesting place to put the scene? You have to start considering things like what's logical, such as getting from place to place.
Evins: As I wrote in my blog, when I started reading Bulletproof, a few pages in you mention your script, Guam Goes to the Moon, I realized immediately that I had read it. I searched my computer and fount it was submitted to me as a writing sample in 1998. In my short, executive coverage, I noted that liked the writing very much, and I wrote, “Worth keeping in mind for assignments.” That’s a big deal. But, when I followed up with your agent, I didn’t ask to set a meeting. I was president of a production company and was juggling about two-dozen active projects – but I could have met you twenty years ago! I’m kicking myself. On the other hand, my notes also said, “The premise would be well served by some bigger comic moments.” Essentially, set pieces. Then, in the book, you said you mastered set pieces in 2005. So I felt a better. You’re astonishingly articulate about set pieces as one of the essential techniques in a writer’s arsenal. Would you talk about what they are, how you create them, what makes them work, why we need them, and why now more than ever?
Diamond: Set pieces are proof-of-concept. They’re a succinct, contained proof of the concept for your movie. If you have an idea, and you can encapsulate the potential of that idea in a scene that is funny, scary, dramatic, romantic – whatever genre you happen to be working in – and elevate it, such that anyone reading it gets through that scene and says, “I see this. I can picture this. I want to see this movie. I want to make this movie. I see how I can sell this movie,” your job is done. You’re doing your job as writer to communicate your concept succinctly and effectively. And you’re doing the job of the production executive, the development executive, who has to pitch this idea on your behalf. And your doing the job of the marketing executive who has to go out and sell your idea. It’s the essence of the bulletproof screenplay.
Weissman: That’s exactly why they’re crucial. Because executives are busy. You need to stand out.
Diamond: And you just made our point for us. By not responding, even though you liked Guam Goes to The Moon, because you had so many things going on. Every executive does. And if they don’t get the set pieces…
Weissman: That script wasn’t bulletproof. And, by the way, that script didn’t get made. It was very important in our career. That spec did a lot for us. It almost got made. If it had been bulletproof…
Evins: I would have taken the meeting! And we would have known each other for twenty years by now. But I’m delighted to know you at last, and to be teaching a class with you on theme and mastering techniques for infusing stories with this delicious ingredient – a subject the three of us love.