Screen writing \ football. My pitch for screenwriting guru status.

A little while ago I went to a screenwriting talk in London. It was run by a US screenwriter, and it was about STRUCTURE. The screenwriter turned out to be more of a ‘guru’ than a writer. As it turned out (mentioning no names here) he was a bit of a poor man’s McKee.

He was big on graphs and charts of wheels where (apparently) you could fit any of the great screenplays into his ‘paradigm’ and ‘deep structure’.

Anyway there was lot of jargon (I mistrust jargon in any walk of life) – ‘anti-threat’ , ‘higher self \ lower self’ and a reduction of WW2 to a Hollywood feature film scenario, which made me a wince a bit.

For some reason all this dry theorising about screenwriting ‘formulas’ inspired me into my own version of ‘the script editor’s approach to screenwriting’ through the example of (why not?!) FOOTBALL.

Thinking STRUCTURE – a football match is a 2 part serial, 2 x 45’. It works the same way as drama in that the half time result is relatively unimportant, it’s the score at the end that counts. But as with drama, if you have a story where at the midway point, the away team is winning 2-0, then it’s all the more pleasing and entertaining if by the end that has been turned round into a 3-2 home victory ie a great hook at the ad-break for the 2nd half surprise!

All the US ‘rules’ of screenwriting can be turned into football equivalents – ‘catalysts’, ‘inciting incidents’, ‘turning points’ can be substituted for sending-off’s, free kicks, penalties, injuries, refereeing mistakes and of course goals – any one of these can suddenly transform a match, and raise the stakes in one dramatic incident.

And like episodes in a long-running series, every league game has a context, whether it’s within a single season or a club’s whole history. In the same way as you can doubly appreciate a particular episode because of the previous episode and ‘hook’ that has preceded it, so a footy match can have a greater sense of drama because, for instance, the club will get relegated if they don’t win it (speaking as a Fulham fan rather than a Man U supporter this is something I know about!)

Personalities – protagonists (one’s particular favourite at a club), antagonists (Christiano Ronaldo, El HadjDiouf). It’s also about how sometimes the most unlikely supporting cast member suddenly becomes the main, centre stage, character.

Crisis – sending off, injury, goals against and ultimately relegation and bankruptcy – look at Leeds Utd if you want a real, full-blown tragedy! And stories can be told on different levels – it can be micro ( a single player’s moment of triumph or disaster) or macro (relegation, bankruptcy)

In football, the ending is sometimes predictable but redeemed by those few times when the gloriously unpredictable comes to pass. Above all, there are so many levels of possibility, so many possible outcomes in any single game, that it’s impossible to tell how the result will be achieved, even if the odds on one particular result are great.

Like the best drama, football at its best is about these levels of complexity. It’s about the dynamics of the action and conflict between personalities. In fact this is one of the joys of football – every match by definition is about conflict. And with every new match, the conflict takes on different and surprising turns. In the same way, all drama should be about conflict

As in good drama, ‘personalities’ develop and change over the course of a game or season (the striker who hasn’t scored for 10 games suddenly scores the winning goal; the unflappable player loses his cool and is sent off) – parallels with the virtues of what the best drama series do (with The Champions League or FA Cup as a posh drama serial, in comparison to the weekly ‘continuing drama \ soap’ of the league).

In the same way as the best screenwriting \ drama is a metaphor or representation of life, so is sport. Sport at its best is as much about story as narrative film.

And what is doubly exciting about it is that story is created, in real time, in front of you. It’s improvised drama within a rigidly worked out structure (a ‘half’ within a ‘game’ within a ‘competition’ within a ‘season’). And no-one knows how it’s going to develop, turn out.

So maybe the ultimate subversion – ‘the negation of the negation’ as Robert McKee would have it!… is match-fixing. Match-fixing destroys the meaning of sport as story.

OK I think I’ve taken this analogy about as far as I can…

Philip Shelley