The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box
Office Success- sounds like a pedantic how-to book about
using the forces of good and evil to get good box office
returns, doesn't it? I wasn't quite sure what to make of
this book when I first got it; however, after reading the
first few chapters, it became evident that this book addresses
a vitally important aspect of screenwriting, moviemaking,
and intelligent film analysis.
A moral premise is a universally recognized moral truth
about life. While almost all religious texts utilize the
moral premise in some way, the premise itself is not necessarily
religious in nature. For example, in Aesop's fable "The
Ant and the Grasshopper", the moral premise would be
"Diligence leads to prosperity but laziness leads to
poverty". (While the story's basic moral is usually
summed up as only
"Diligence leads to prosperity", Williams notes
that the moral premise needs to have both sides of the moral,
showing the results of the vice as well as the virtue.)
The goal of this book is to examine how the moral premise
and the conflicts it deals with are presented in today's
movies. Drawing upon such diverse examples as Die Hard,
The Incredibles, Braveheart, and Bruce
Almighty, Stanley Williams explores the characteristics
of good movies as they relate to the moral premise.
The book is divided into two parts: the first section deals
with the historical and structural aspects of the moral
premise, the second with its application in writing a story
and/or screenplay. In the first three chapters, Williams
covers the historical background and modern interpretations
of the moral premise; the next three address how it fits
in with writing and storytelling. It is chapters 5 and 6
in particular that I want to look at briefly, because they
are the most dense.
Chapter 5 takes a look at how the moral premise fits into
both the physical and psychological storylines. Most movies
(with any complexity) will have two storylines: a physical
one, which is the actual events that take place, and a psychological
one, which is what motivates the physical story. (For example,
the physical storyline of Fight Club is about men
beating each other up and causing social mischief; the psychological
storyline deals with the characters' disillusionment of
modern men in society.) Williams goes on to describe how
the moral premise becomes essential to the characters' development,
and, ultimately, to the movie's outcome. Chapter 6 examines
how to make the audience connect and identify with your
film. This is especially important because no matter how
strong your message or storytelling is, it is worthless
if you cannot integrate the audience.
The second part of the book takes you through the step-by-step
process of creating the moral premise, characters, physical
and psychological storylines, plot development, etc. of
This book is definitely stimulating (both mentally and creatively);
and while there are times that it seems almost to be too
philosophical for cinephiles, producers, directors, or writers,
it is able to tackle the philosophy of storywriting without
actually getting into philosophy. Williams explains things
clearly and includes many diagrams and charts to help explain
and illustrate his points.
other thing that I especially liked about this book is that
Stanley Williams not only acknowledges both the logical
("left-brain") and emotional ("right-brain")
side of writing and creating, but also comes up with ideas
and suggestions for using both to their best potential.
Because not everyone writes and thinks the same way, it
is important to not only acknowledge that, but also come
up with ways to utilize those diverse learning and writing
The book takes a deductive approach, beginning with the
general definition and history of the moral premise, working
its way down through the function, place, and importance
of the moral premise in movies, and concluding with a very
specific walk-through that shows the reader how to successfully
apply the moral premise in their own work. While Williams
covers a lot of ground in this book, because of the way
it's laid out, the material is not overwhelming.
I really enjoy reading about philosophy, especially when
it applies to films and modern
life. I also like looking at movies and analyzing and discussing
their plots, characters, values, statements about life,
etc. If you're one of those types of people, you will really
dig this book. If you're a writer (for film or book), you
will get a lot out of it as well. However, if you're not
one of the types of people described above, this book may
not be for you.
I found this book fascinating because this is the kind of
stuff I love to talk and read about. If you have an interest
in the things this book talks about, it will definitely
hold that interest; but if you're not really into this particular
topic, you won't find the book that interesting.
For anyone involved in screenwriting and/or movie analysis/discussion,
The Moral Premise will definitely not remain unused
on the shelf. Especially if you're a writer, you will find
yourself coming back to this book again and again. Even
if you don't personally reread it that often, you will almost
definitely be letting your other film-loving friends borrow
Is the value on this book greater than the purchase price?
me just say this: if you get this book, you will never look
at movies the same way again.
only will you have greater appreciation for good movies
and less tolerance for superficial ones, but you will be
able to tell the difference between the two in detail. You
will know what makes a good movie great and a crappy movie
crap. I will warn you: do not read this book
if you don't want to change your outlook on movies.
I cannot say how glad I am that this book was written.
Anyone who calls themselves a filmmaker (or a movie reviewer)
should be required to read this book. At a time when we
are spending so much money on movies, we are sorely uneducated
on what makes a truly good or bad film.
While this book may not be for everybody, you will not be
disappointed if you do get it. There is a lot of material
and it is deep, but it is also easy to follow. It is not
overly technical and asks nothing more than the reader having
an open mind and a strong interest in good movies.