Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Movie Screening Alert - Oscar Nominees

New York audiences might want to clear their schedules on Saturday if they haven't seen most of the Best Picture Nominees yet. The AMC Kips Bay is doing a marathon screening of 

AVATAR
UP IN THE AIR
PRECIOUS
THE BLIND SIDE and
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (in that order).

It's $30 for the all day event - not too bad considering a regular ticket is over $12 these days - and apparently includes all you can eat popcorn. I'm sure there are screenings like this most year (unless it's a new thing due to the increase in nominees), but it's a cool idea. It might be a bit of an overwhelming movie watching experience, but if you're looking to catch up, here's a good opportunity.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Logline Central - Abduction

Logline Central is an irregular segment that takes a deeper look at loglines of scripts or projects that have just been purchased, as listed on DoneDealPro.  
Right off the bat, this logline intrigued me. 


Title: Abduction
Logline: A young man discovers his own baby picture on a missing persons website.
Writer: Shawn Christensen
Price: High six-figures against seven
More: Spec, part of a bidding war. Based on an idea by Jeremy Bell. Gotham's Ellen Goldsmith-Vein & Lee Stollman, Vertigo's Roy Lee & Doug Davison and Tailor Made's Dan Lautner will produce. Gotham's Bell and Vertigo's Gabriel Mason will executive produce. Taylor Lautner will star.  
It's got "everything" a logline needs. [Note: everything placed in quotation marks there, because it's less traditional than loglines most writers are first taught to write. It doesn't have the second component, if you're abiding by the "When (event) happens, (protagonist) must (action)."] It has the inciting incident - the discovery of the baby picture on the website - the protagonist - the young man - and, most importantly, enough intrigue to pique a reader's attention.

The logline raises a number of questions, but all in a good way. What's his reaction to the discovery? What happens when he finds out more about his original parents? Are his parents for all these years really kidnappers? Does he have a happy life currently? Does he even want to upset his status quo by exploring the discovery more? How does this affect him?

I want to know all that and more, and because of that, I would certainly request the script if I was a VP of Acquisitions. (I'm not a Twi-hard Taylor Lautner fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm curious enough about the script to follow this one a bit closer, despite him.) And we'll see what Shawn Christensen does with the material. An imdb search didn't turn much up on his writing history other than a short and a feature that's still in development. He has one other project in development, which seems to have sold for an impressive $750K against $1.5 million, so he might be someone to watch out for.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 112 - Edits and Page Count

It was one hell of a busy week. I sent a full, revised draft of my script to my producer, Gretchen, on Saturday afternoon. That version was the result of rewrites based on three big plot issues I had to address that arose in a January 26 draft. After a call with Gretchen and much deliberation on how to revise the glaring holes, I managed to iron things out with another pass. Two weeks after the January 26 draft, I was ready to send again, this time having done 3 solid, fine-toothed comb edits. 

On Tuesday, I got a call from Gretchen. She'd read the newest draft (the one I just sent on Saturday), and was much more pleased with it. Of course, there were still some small things that I would need to tweak before the script was "ready." One of the biggest concerns wound up being the page count. At 119 pages, the script was closing in on long, especially in this ADD age. As writers, we're taught that a script "is" 120 pages long, with Act One being the first 30 pages, Act Two the next 60, and Act Three the final 30. My script weighed a little heavy in the middle at 25, 69, 25, respectively. Still, I felt that the slightly less conventional page count structure shouldn't be much of a concern. The production company that we're working with already read an earlier version and liked the new first act we'd presented them with back in January, so I didn't feel as though adherence to traditional guidelines was as pressing. They know my style and have been working with me for over four months now. I felt safe "sacrificing" traditional structure for the story that needed to be told.

Ultimately, Gretchen agreed that we could go forward and present the production company with a draft that's heavy on Act Two, and let them read and review before trying to make any big changes. What everything boiled down to was that there was nothing we could (or that I would) comfortably cut to bring the page count down closer to 110. We'd ironed out such a smooth story - despite what the longer count might indicate - that I was adamant about cutting simply to turn in something shorter. In my gut, I think that was a wise decision, but we'll see what the production company's feedback finds. 

After speaking with Gretchen on Tuesday and determining that, while I'd address a few more changes, cutting scenes or sequences for the sake of page count would not be a part of that, we began a final edit phase. As I was addressing a few final beats, Gretchen was going through and making her own edits, trimming and clarifying anything she could for the sake of a better read. We've worked this way throughout - I submit a draft to her, which she then edits and returns, giving me final say over any and all changes. For the most part, this cuts out redundancies in dialogue that I don't always spot (and Onyx will be the first to tell you that sometimes my dialogue is a bit repetitive) and smoothing out scene transitions. The page count held steady at 119, and at about 1:15am Friday morning, I sent the "final" version to Gretchen. I'm hoping it made the weekend reading pile at the production company, but I'm not sure. It's sure hard not to check my inbox every two minutes to see if we've heard back from them.

I'm not quite sure what to expect from here on out. Theoretically, things could move quickly once the production company execs read - if they like it. On the other hand, there's no money on the table, so they're not compelled to read quickly. Also, if they come back and don't like it or have major re-write notes, Gretchen and I aren't obligated to stick with them. They've shown interest, which is great, but at a certain point, we have to decide if it's worth doing a lot more work for free on a script that we currently like. The notes might bring something up that we didn't realize, which is another option. Who knows what this next week or two could bring? Your guess would be as good as mine.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Logline Central - Prom

Logline Central is an irregular segment that takes a deeper look at loglines of scripts or projects that have just been purchased, as listed on DoneDealPro

Or, How NOT to Write a Logline.

Title: Prom
Logline: A group of teens prep for the big dance.
Writer: Katie Wech
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
More: Ted Griffin and Justin Springer will produce. Joe Nussbaum will direct.  

I'm sure there's more than meets the eyes with this logline. Disney is usually pretty smart about the moves it makes, so we have to trust that there's something this logline is hiding. So, not to rag on Disney, but I thought this snippet of a logline offered us a good reason to go over logline basics.

This one sentence offers us nothing. A scene, maybe, but certainly not a movie. When you write a logline, make sure you give a sense of the conflict involved. Or at least of the twist that makes this film unique.

A group of teenage aliens hiding out in human society try to avoid being discovered while getting ready for their high school prom. 

Ok. I'd bite.

A group of Hawaiian teens prep for their big dance on December 7, 1941. 

Conflict. Twist. More than the characters anticipate. I would also bite on this one.

Of course, Disney's making this, a director's attached, and I'll bet you the script's been written (or at least there's a treatment that's been approved). I don't think that a logline really matters for this project's future at this point. But if you read Done Deal Pro or other loglines for tips on how to write yours, DO NOT just mimic the above.

Remember, loglines should roughly follow the, "When X (inciting incident) happens, Y (protagonist) must..." They should be relatively active and, though only a sentence or two, give a sense of the overall plot. "After his wife is killed by an English magistrate, a Scottish farmer leads a rebellion against the crown for Scotland's freedom." Braveheart. You see the conflict (war, England), the protag (the farmer), and why he's doing this (his wife was killed). Teens getting ready for a prom maybe tells you who (the teens), but nothing as to why this is a challenge (or even a story).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Oscar Acceptance Speech Rules

The times sure are a changing. First, the Academy will be nominating 10 films for Best Picture this year. Now, in another move away from the past, it seems that the producers of this year's Oscars have asked nominees to prepare two speeches. This first speech (to be delivered back stage post-acceptance) is the token "thank you everyone I know, beginning chronologically with..." The second, new speech is a short 45 second "what the award means to me" and will be the speech nominees ae asked to give live on camera. 

For all of us who've practiced our Oscar acceptance speech a hundred times (I can't remember how many versions I have), his might come as a blow. We want to thank people. We have to thank some. As writers, though, maybe this is an opportunity. We get 45 seconds to talk about what the Oscar means to us, followed by (I assume) a lot longer to thank everyone. Rather than thank everyone you know, you can show the world just how witty or regal or classy or quippy you really are (and why studios should hire you again). I'd like to think winners still get time to thank Mom and Dad, but I'm curious to see how this year goes. My hope, though, is that - contrary to my interpretation of the article - people who launch almost immediately into a thank you list will not get played off instantly. 

I'll have to see how this plays out - and how Oscar winners respond - in order to fully determine my stance on this. Part of me (the viewer part) likes it. The Oscar hopeful part of me feels like winners should get 45 seconds to say whatever the hell they want (especially the technical award winners - let those guys stand on stage and thank their spouses, damn it!). What are your thoughts on this development?

MTV Movies Blog has the full story here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Writing Week (vol. 3) part 111 - Plan on Lots of Re-writes

I don't think that anyone could have convinced me of the amount of re-writing work I'd have to do once I began writing my post-Apocalyptic spec. Even I can't believe it sometimes.

For over two years now, I've been working on this same script (off and on). At first, though I was writing it with the hopes of selling it and breaking into the film industry with it, I was also writing it just for the hell of it. I had never tried an end of the world script before, so it was sort of an experiment for me. Sure, I'd had to create new worlds and settings before, but I'd never tried transforming the familiar (major U.S. cities and landmarks) into something different and unknown. All of my previous scripts had taken place in fictional cities with fictional laws, all of which I created. This, though, basing something in reality, was also new to me. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it beyond the Armageddon scenario that I'd come up with (couldn't it maybe be enough to just explore this new reality and work a story into that setting?), but I knew I wanted to use it.

Over the past year and eight months, though, the script has really evolved. I'd say it "changed," but I don't think that implies either a positive or negative difference, whereas "evolved" does. At least to a degree.

The script is better now. I think I can securely say that. There are certainly fewer plot holes, and everything on the page makes a lot more sense and is unquestionably earned now. In the earlier drafts, I was clearly having fun with my characters and world, but sometimes to the detriment of the story. Things click into place much more clearly now. That said, I've also been doing consistent rewrites since June, and it's hard to avoid feeling like I've moved away from that original, ill-formed idea of what I wanted the script to be. Yes, it's about something now. Yes, the plot is tighter. Yes, we care more about everyone we meet. That doesn't mean that it's exactly what I originally set out to write.

Disclaimer: I don't want to sound like the above is a complaint. It's certainly not. Rather, it's an observation on how far the script has come. It's also an honest confession. I was thinking about notes I'd gotten on it the other day, sitting on my bed, trying to figure out how to address a big question that had come up in the pages, when something hit me. My original intent with this project was so far behind me, so far "missed" that I didn't remember it. At first, the script was more sci-fi, creepy people doing creepy things. Now, it's much more firmly grounded in reality. (After seeing both THE ROAD and BOOK OF ELI recently, I think it was wise to move away from the more eccentric behavior.) It was just an odd thought - that this was incredibly different from what I first planned on doing.

Now, after all of that is said and done, there's one final thing to consider. The other day, my mother asked me which draft I was most pleased with. Isn't this the crux of the matter? I answered honestly when I told her that, if I could sell any incarnation of it, it would be the current one. It's the strongest. And, though it's different from what I first set out to write, because of the years of unexpected re-writes, it's also better.

I hope you find that re-writes do the same thing for your script - just be sure you don't get so far from the original idea that it stops feeling like yours. Throughout all of this, I still feel like the script it mine. Different. But still mine.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 110 - Lock Yourself Away to Write

Onyx and I were supposed to spend the weekend in Ohio helping out on Zombie's film set. Unfortunately, in order to get there, we were going to have to stop in Arlington, VA to borrow a car from my parents and then drive up through Maryland and Pennsylvania. That whole region was the epicenter of a major blizzard beginning exactly on the Friday we were to hit the road, so we had to cancel.

With my plans all screwed up, I had an important decision to make. Should I go ahead and have a four day weekend, or did it make more sense to save up my vacation days and go into the office? I had so successfully shifted my mind into "no work on Friday" mode, that by the end of the day Thursday, I knew I would likely not be productive for the final day of the work week. I was confident that I could be of some use on Monday, but Friday was likely to be a loss. On top of that, my producer got back to me on Wednesday with notes on the latest draft of my script, and my mind was all abuzz with new ideas. Thus, I decided to take Friday off and dedicate the weekend to my script.

Normally, I write for about an hour a day and consider that a success. However, I'm not one to enjoy "wasting" a long weekend, no matter how tired or lazy I might be feeling. So, on Friday, I holed up in my room and worked for about 3 hours, cracking the major issues that my producer had found with the script. Saturday saw another two hours of work, as did Sunday. I know that 7 hours in a weekend might not seem like a ton, but it did me a lot of good.

The top of the week found me pretty aggravated, to be honest. I received an email from my producer with her new thoughts on the script, and it indicated a lot more work to be done. I went to sleep that night pretty frustrated, frankly, and ready to be done with this phase of the script. After my call with my producer on Wednesday, however, I was happy to do more work on it. I saw where she was coming from with her feedback and, more importantly, how to go about solving it. Most crucially, though, I knew that she was right - the things she had brought up were important issues, but would not compromise the structure or scenes of the latest draft. I suppose it's a good thing (and I hope I'm not wrong in my evaluation of the script here) that the changes we needed to make could be done almost exclusively through dialogue. A few adjustments or tweaked lines here, and we would be able to convey the important info that was missing. 

Now all I have to do is implement those notes, get her the revised draft, and hope like mad that we can pass it on to the production company soon. Whatever the result, it was great to give myself one day (Friday) in which I dedicated myself to very little other than working on ironing out the problems in the script. If you have the opportunity to do so and are facing challenges in your story, I highly recommend locking yourself away to write. 

Novel Ideas: Your Novel's Revision Stage

Last time we chatted, I'd finished my first draft of SILENT CITY and was riding the wave of joy that comes with such an accomplishment. I was prepping for The League to look over the draft and taking a moment to bask in the glow that comes with finishing a project.

But then reality set in.

The book isn't done. Far from it. I realized a little while after writing the last post that finishing the first draft of a novel is only a part of the ongoing process of writing one. Next comes arguably the most challenging and perhaps longest step: Revisions.

My initial plan was simple: Submit the draft to The League, make the required changes and start querying agents. But nothing in life is that easy. The League was already well-stocked with stuff in the queue and, unlike my colleagues who mostly deal in 100-125 page screenplays, a 220-page novel is a more daunting task, and not something I can expect my fellow Leaguers to read through and properly digest in a few days. So, SILENT CITY will be analyzed at our next meeting, ideally sometime toward the end of this month. In the meantime, I was left with a shiny new draft and no one to read it.

This is where good friends become a great benefit. I sent a few polite emails to people I knew, both in and out of publishing but mainly people I knew were readers and most importantly, people who I trusted to be honest with me and cut the bullshit. Some of these people include novelists, editors, newspaper writers and copy editors, etc. Mainly, I wanted an honest opinion from a wide swath of people -- some well-versed in the crime fiction genre, others just coming to it as a new reader would, in addition to the comments I knew I was going to get from The League.

So far, I've built a pretty solid list. I've handed the first draft to a colleague of mine who has a ton of experience reading manuscripts in general and crime novels specifically. So, I'm waiting on his comments before I send the draft to a wider list, mainly because I expect his notes to be the most detailed and effective. I'm pretty sure that the second draft of SILENT CITY will be significantly different from the first, so I don't want to bog the rest of my list down with reading it twice. Also, I'm well aware this is the kind of favor you can't really call people on more than once every few years, so I have to make sure each "read" I'm getting doesn't just get done, but also gets done at the right time. For example, I have another close friend back home who's an ace copy editor and also a very smart reader, period. But having her read my first draft, especially when I know I'll be getting copious notes from someone else, doesn't work if what I'm looking for from her is more of a general "This didn't work for me/This was good" analysis, coupled with a very detailed copy edit. Maybe I'm being a tad OCD about it, but it makes sense to me on paper.

Now, while all this planning and list-building sounds good, it doesn't equate to much writing. So, I decided to start outlining the next novel while I waited for people to get back to me and between revisions (which have yet to begin). This was a fun exercise because it allowed me to work on something new while still keeping a hand in SILENT CITY. I've got a very basic breakdown of Pete's next adventure, which involves a change of scenery, a new villain and some other surprises I'm hesitant to get into just yet. I've read a few books as research and I'm excited to work on something new but also familiar, as it's a continuation of SILENT CITY.

More as it happens...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

2010 Academy Award and Razzie Nominations Announced

Today, film lovers around the world finally got to find out what the 10 Best Picture Nominees for the 82nd annual Academy Awards are. Some of us are groaning, some are griping, and some are pleasantly surprised. I'm more curious than anything - how can up be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature? 

Of course, the end of January doesn't just signal time to recognize the year's best cinematic accomplishments - it's also a great opportunity to look back at (or avoid) some of the most epic film failures of the past 12 months. And for that, we have the Razzies. 

If you haven't see the nominations yet - for both the year's best and worst - here is a sampling.

Best Picture
"Avatar"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
"Up in the Air"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Up"
"The Blind Side"
"District 9"
"An Education"
"A Serious Man"

Best Original Screenplay
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"The Messenger"
"A Serious Man"
"Up"

Best Adapted Screenplay
"District 9"
"An Education"
"In the Loop"
"Precious"
"Up in the Air"

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Lee Daniels, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

Best Animated Feature
"Up"
"Coraline"
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"The Princess and the Frog"
"The Secret of Kells"

Best Foreign-Language Film
"Ajami"
"El Secreto de Sus Ojos"
"The Milk of Sorrow"
"Un Proph├Ęte"
"The White Ribbon"

And on the other side of the fence:
Worst Picture of 2009
“All About Steve”
“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”
“Land of The Lost”
“Old Dogs”
“Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen”

Worst Screenplay of 2009"All About Steve"
"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"
"Land of The Lost"
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"
"Twilight Saga: New Moon"

To see all Oscar nominated films, click here
For all Razzie candidates, click here.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 109 - Should you Follow the Trend?


Should writers follow the current Hollywood trends? Do they make the trends? Should they even worry about them? These are questions that I never really thought about recently, at least not so far as they dictated my writing. Recently though, I can't help but seriously consider what's being released and what has recently sold when trying to determine which idea I should work on next. 

While it's worth noting that all aspiring writers ought to have multiple ideas in the queue - this isn't so much to gauge your seriousness as a writer, as it is your future success as more than a one-trick pony – this post assumes you have a few ideas. (It’s fine if you don’t yet – focus on finishing your first script before getting too far ahead of yourself.) So now let’s say you’re trying to decide which script to write next. Let’s also assume that all your ideas are of equal urgency to you. Whether you’re repped up or not, you might wonder how much Hollywood’s current trends should affect you decision.

Of course, my voice is just one out of many (and one that is not too well known in the industry – yet). Still, I can tell you that both my current and previous manager have been very hesitant about giving me the green light to work on specs that are similar to something(s) that has just sold. Any studio that doesn’t yet have a vampire movie (hypothetical – I’m sure they all have 6) will most likely not want to risk their neck-biter flick on an unknown writer. That means, they’re going with the big guns, and you and I do not fit the bill. So, I doubt I’d write a vampire script right now if I had other ideas rattling around there. (I know this sounds like a bit of hypocrisy. After all, I’m trying to sell a post-Apocalyptic spec on the heels of not only The Road, but also Book of Eli and 2012, to name but a few.)

Granted, there’s the flip side to trends. Now might be the PERFECT time for you to write a rom-com about a woman who goes to Europe and meets the perfect man. When in Rome and Leap Year both look terrible, and studios might just be looking for “the movie those should have been.” Likewise with my post-apocalyptic spec, Eli and The Road both got middling reviews, so I know that part of the train of thought is that people still want to see a more successful version of that world. On the other hand, a couple flops can kill a genre.

We seem to be back at square one – should you follow the trend? Maybe. I can tell you now that I’ve met with incredible resistance to trying to establish a franchise. If you’re hoping to write your own superhero movie, because superheroes are all the rage, you should know that hardly anyone will want to risk $150 million on your self-created superheroes (believe me, I’ve tried). And unless you have something incredibly unique to say about zombies, now might not be the best time. We’ve seen every form of zombie there is recently – except ballerina zombies, which I just copyrighted – so studios are likely to edge away from that soon.

Maybe a better question is: should you determine the trend? If you can’t quite determine it, can you at least get ahead of it? Maybe you remember watching some sasquatch movie when you were a kid, and a generation later, there’s been no sasquatch movie. Well, it might be perfect time to unleash your sasquatch thriller on movie-goers.

Ultimately, what the answer comes down to is money. Studios don’t want to spend money, but they have to in order to make it. And they love making it. That means that right now, they’re looking for the “sure” things. Unfortunately, that means sequels and franchises. It does also mean trends, but only to a certain extent. Slasher films are usually a low risk venture because of the unknown talent and low budgets that can carry them. A new writer attempting a low risk venture like that can really distinguish him or herself by writing a knockout script. A new writer attempting a $100 million futuristic caper is facing much more of an uphill battle. If you can write a smart, relatively inexpensive, yet unique script that fits into the current trend, then go with it. Know that by the time your script is ready for production, the trend might be over, and your project could stagnate. For the most part, though, I think that what you and I have to do is write what we feel we can write most effectively right now, avoid the trends that just died, and just make sure that we’re breathing new air into whichever genre we tackle.