Tuesday, August 31, 2010

UCLA’s Kris Young, Bruce Lee, and Kung Fu Screenwriting

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.



A young BOY, a student, approaches LEE. Both bow.

             Kick me.

The student looks confused.

             Kick me.

The student attempts a half-hearted kick.

             What was that? An
             Exhibition? We need
             emotional content. Now
             try again!

The student tries again, this time better,
but unfocused, imprecise, eratic.

             I said "emotional
             content." Not anger!
             Now try again!

The student tries again and succeeds.

             That's it! How did it

The student thinks.

Lee smacks his head.

             Don't think. FEEL. It's
             like a finger pointing
             at the moon.

Lee looks at the student who is looking at the finger. He smacks the student again.

             Do not concentrate on
             the finger or you will
             miss all of the heavenly

The student bows. Lee smacks him again.

             Never take your eyes off
             your opponent... even
             when you're bowing!

Student bows again this time keeping his eyes on Lee.

             That's better.

The student walks away.

                              BEGIN OPENING CREDITS

From Enter the Dragon.

UCLA educator, Kris Young:

You can get a simple book, like one of those Syd Field books, and see if things are actually falling on these different structural places. But it’s a dangerous thing too, because I find that a lot of people wrote great screenplays without having to know all those structural paradigms, so you want to balance that with still enjoying film and writing from your heart.
You need to learn that it’s more about the journey than the destination. This is something that I teach in my lecture “Kung Fu Screenwriting,” which is based on some Bruce Lee philosophy – there’s a difference between doing and being. When you venture forth to do screenwriting, like many people do, then the moment you stop, you’re not a screenwriter. But if you move toward the idea of being a writer, then it never leaves you. And I think that’s a higher thing to aspire to – to be a writer. You keep writing not necessarily to sell a script or to get a movie made, but because that is who you are.
I look for people who are already self-motivated. People who already have a high level of interest in the subject – they’re really not gonna do anything else. They’re writing before school begins, they’re gonna keep writing when school stops. It’s not something they do, but it’s something they are. Be a writer as opposed to someone who does writing.
From Tales from the Script, Edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman, HarperCollins, p. 29-31.


Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

We need emotional content.
---Bruce Lee


  1. Excellent post ... too funny, I wrote a blog post about screenwriting and emotional content, using Enter the Dragon as an example, a couple years ago, but I figured that I'd be the only one (I'm a martial arts nut) - lol.

    The link to mine, titled Emotional Content, is here:http://writerjoshuajames.com/dailydojo/?p=665

  2. Thanks, Joshua. I'll read your post. That line in Dragon has always stayed with me. It's like the last 10% in 110%. or maybe the top 100 and the mechanics are the first 10. You can get the mechanics perfectly and still be defeated by heart.

  3. There's a whole zen theory behind Lee and martial arts, he often said that if a punch is done correctly, it's only "like a punch" implying that there's something more to it than just punching ... it'd look like a punch, move like a punch, but in totality, it'd be more than that and only "like" a punch.

    I feel that way about many arts, be it music or dance or story ... when done correctly, it's only "like a song" or "like a screenplay" ... it looks like one is supposed to look, but in reality it's a lot more than that.

  4. That's interesting because he doesn't say "It's more than a punch," but rather "like a punch," implying that the difference is closer to "apples and oranges" not merely "apples and better apples"--kind of "apples squared." So, perhaps he's getting at the idea that it's apples and "apples cubed," or apples and "beyond fruit entirely." I guess we really need Bruce to weigh in. Bruce....?