Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Logline Central - Lego

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.

Well, they've done it again.
Title: Lego
Logline: No details given.
Writer: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
More: To be based on their pitch, which was based on Lego's building blocks toy. Dan Lin and Roy Lee will produce. Doug Davison and Lego's Jill Wilfert will executive produce. Lin Pictures' Seanne Winslow will co-produce. Phil Lord & Chris Miller will also direct. The film will live action and animation. Project was last announced in August 2008.
No comment, other than "Ugh."

Come on, INCEPTION...

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 130 - Overlapping Projects

I managed to accomplish a few things last week, even while on vacation. For one, I discovered just how out of shape I've grown living an idle life in New York. More encouraging, though, was the fact that I got a rough, three page outline of my next project idea (the firefighter script) to my manager by the end of the week. Sometimes, I guess knowing how to sit sedentary for a few hours at a time can in fact pay off. 

After last week's post about trying to work with pen and paper more, I had to make the transition over to typing up my ideas in Word. Over the course of the week, I got all my original notes transferred over, and then built upon them, ultimately generating the outline. I guess it's a little strange, but my process generally involves creating an initial document that has both notes and the majority of my outline. When holes appear in the outline or I discover questions that need to be answered before I can move on, I open a new document and paste a copy of the outline into there. Then, I continue to work on filling in the plot holes in the more note-filled first document, ultimately collecting the full unadulterated outline in the second. Something about having a scrap document for notes and questions and problem solving helps (and replaces the earlier pad of paper).

Right around the time I was getting the outline prepped to send off to my manager, I got a call from him. The executive that we've been working with on the post-Apocalyptic spec had another round of notes - the final round, I'm told. She essentially had five points that she wants us to take a closer look at. At first, one of them seemed to really jump out as not a minor change. I called my producer and manager pretty quickly, and they both talked me down, making me see that it's really just a question of adding a beat or two to one part of the script, and removing a couple from a later one, to shift some of the focus around. Not too bad.

Still, though, the prospect of more notes to address - even though I think they'll only take me a week - was not so hot. At this point, we've been working on the script with this particular production company since October. My manager assure me that, barring any glaring problems that we've all managed to overlook by being too close to the material, the fixes I do now will be the last one before the script goes out to the rest of the team at the production company (including the head producer). One last round of tweaks, and then it goes out, out of our hands and into all of theirs. From there, it's only a matter of a couple weeks before we should know whether they'll be moving forward with the project or not. And in the meantime, I'll be working on the firefighter spec, getting ready to answer the question we all hope to hear one day: "so what's next for you?"

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 129 - Pen and Paper, When Tried is True for a Reason

I gave myself a week off. Friday marked a week since I sent the most recent version of my script into the production company that we're working with. (I just heard from my manager today that we're hoping to get notes by end of day tomorrow - and we're hoping the notes are little more than very minor tweaks and finesses.) Any one out there could easily argue that waiting a week before writing again - especially at a time when we're hoping I'll have to go to LA and take meetings soon - is incredibly bad planning. I won't argue with you there. However, I was feeling a little bit like I was running on fumes, and I was having a difficult time cracking the new project open. So, I took a week off.

On Saturday, I started actively writing down ideas for the new script (let's call it the "firefighter script" here on out). Sure, I'd jotted things down here and there, but that was the start of blocking out the time and really making myself work on the new idea. Sunday followed with more work, including a few revelations that helped really crack the thing open. Then today, I spend five hours on a bus heading back down to Arlington, Virginia. In between naps (more than I should probably have taken), I got more work done. The general story arc is slowly starting to congeal; I have a fairly stable foundation for each act and where many of the big beats fall. Soon, it'll be time to put all this down on the computer and get it out to the manager. But not yet.

I'm constantly going back and forth on the merits of writing on the computer versus with pen and paper. Recently, though, I find it increasingly satisfying (and easier) to begin outlining on a notepad, where no blinking cursor can remind me that I'm not putting new material down. To avoid that nagging reminder, I find myself re-typing the same info over and over again - everything I already know being put down in my notes with little or no actual progress coming with it. Pen and paper, though, is so basic. It doesn't actively remind you that another word should follow. Yes, the page remains blank until you fill it, but it's patient. It allows you to work  through your ideas as they come. And when they do come, it's glorious.

One more day with the notebook - I think that's my goal. Maybe by the end of tomorrow I'll open Word and try to make that cursor blink as little as possible. Until then, though, I'm doing just fine without it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This summer's movie releases... explained

Following up on Cakeman's post earlier this week about a possible glimmer of hope in the spec market, I thought I'd share a link with you guys.

Joe Mathlete runs a great blog called "Marmaduke Explained", where he posts the daily Marmaduke newspaper strip and then in very plain language explains the jokes in them. It's pretty hilarious, actually - two good examples of what he does are here and here.

Understandably, he's been getting a lot of questions about the recent Marmaduke film, which he finally answered in the form of a pretty damning article about the lack of originality in Hollywood releases for 29-95.

His article includes the below list of summer releases and their source material, which is, well, more than a little disparaging (if hilarious) when written out in one place like it is here:

Look what movies are coming out this summer: Sex and the City 2 (sequel to a movie based on a TV show based on a book based on newspaper articles), Iron Man 2 (sequel to a movie based on a 2nd-tier comic book), Jonah Hex (based on a 5th-tier comic book), The A-Team (based on a campy 80s TV action show), Macgruber (based on a series of TV comedy skits based on a campy 80s TV action show) Robin Hood (beyond being basically a Bible story in terms of freshness, it’s also for all intents and purposes a sequel to the film Gladiator), Step Up 3D (sequel to a sequel… in 3D!), Toy Story 3 (sequel to a sequel… in 3D!), Shrek Forever (sequel to the sequel to the sequel to a movie based on fairy tales and fart jokes), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (based on the sequel to a computer game), The Karate Kid (remake of an 80s movie that spawned several sequels, starring the sequel to Will Smith), Ramona and Beezuz (based on children’s books which have already inspired filmic adaptations), The Last Airbender (based on an animated TV series), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (based on a graphic novel), Nanny McPhee Returns (sequel to a movie based on a series of books), Piranha 3D (remake of a movie that was based on ripping off Jaws), Predators (you know, like the movie Predator, but plural!), Dinner for Schmucks (remake of a French film from a decade ago), Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (sequel to a movie called Cats and Dogs that I’d never heard of until I Googled it so I could write this). That’s not counting films whose plots are just lazy retreads of previous films. And that’s also not counting the Marmaduke movie.

The whole thing's a great read. You can check it out here. Before you fellow aspiring screenwriters reach for the cyanide tablets, I'd also urge you to check out Cakeman's more optimistic post about the spec market Cakeman's post earlier this week">here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Are Things Looking Up?

If you're anything like us, you're starting to get a little (well, maybe more than a little) fed up with the current state of development in Hollywood. It was bad enough that most blockbusters seemed to be sequels or lackluster adaptations of books, graphic novels, or other movies. Then the video game movies came out in full force, most pretty forgettable. With board games (and Magic 8 Balls) being developed into feature projects, it seems like Hollywood has hit a new low, digging at the bottom of the bin, when there's so much original material being cast aside for want of something that's an established property. 

Writers are being told to set their more interesting ideas aside - I even posted second hand advice to this effect here yesterday - so that they can instead write a (quite possibly) less intelligent, easier-to-sell script. And the "original" ideas making it to screens this summer have been less than tantalizing, to say the least. Most releases are opening under prediction and dropping off quickly. The long and short of it - fans are losing interest. And, according to this article by Nikki Finke, producers are taking note. And they're worried.

As they ought to be. I'm working on an original idea now, and the production I'm working with has been great. However, it's not lost on me how difficult it is to sell a spec right now, especially a high-concept, high-budget one. (I've had numerous discussions with my manager on how to best plan for my follow-up project, and there are a number of ideas we both like, but feel that the timing is not right on... due in no small part to their being a bit more out-of-the-box.) Finke's article, though seems to hint that the times might be shifting... at least a tiny bit. 

Intensively over the next few days, extending even for the next few weeks, a gaggle of studio moguls and/or their executives have scheduled a series of meetings with top agencies in Hollywood. Yes, the movie gods are coming down off Mount Olympus in order to soak up the wisdom of the mere mortals who rep the talent... That's how seriously this Summer of Discontent has unsettled the studios who are beginning to admit being relatively clueless what to greenlight next now that so many movies aren't clicking with moviegoers.

A little later, she adds, "So what are the agents going to tell the studio swells? Here are our writers, here are their scripts, here is the original material you should be making instead of numbing predictability."

I have to say, Chris Nolan's INCEPTION - due to land July 16 - is a glimmer of hope already. A high-budget, original film with a large cast and a lot of good speculation already, Inception could be the film that reminds Hollywood that good things can come without history. Then again, if any of us made a film that grossed over half a billion dollars domestic, I'm sure we could finagle something, too. Let's hope that we're seeing a new age of original material, as Finke suggests could come. Wouldn't that be great for all of us?

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 128 - Asked for Advice

After a frantic week of getting last minute notes and making revisions - finally leading to turning in the draft at 8pm LA time on Friday - I had the weekend to relax. Well, "relax" is a relative term. The company that I work for (another ally in the writer's universe - Day Job) received a TONY Honor for Excellence in Theatre this weekend, so Saturday was spent at the cocktail reception accepting the award with my coworkers. I decided, to provide a bit of a change of pace - and to spare you yet another post on how I made revisions for another consecutive week - I figured I'd share some advice I gave via email to a Screenwriters League reader.

A fellow writer emailed the League asking for some opinions on his next move. For the most part, the questions asked had to deal with choosing between two ideas (especially if one is grander, while the other seems much more typical Hollywood fodder) and how to get the drive to sit down and actually write a script. I figured that the questions were broad and general enough that they would benefit more than this one reader - I know I wondered the same things many times - so here is my paraphrased response. I hope it helps some other aspiring writers, as well.

It sounds like you have a few ideas for scripts, so at least that's a good place to start... Don't be ashamed of you ideas, and if you are, then don't write them. After you've become an established writer and are taking assignments, then you can write trash under a pseudonym to support your gold-plating habit. Until then, the rule I go by is that, if I don't want to see it or I don't find it a worthwhile idea, then why would I spend possibly two or more years working on it? So no shame...

As for where to begin... unknown writers can't break the mold until they've mastered using it, so pick up a couple intro to screenwriting books. Read them. Then read scripts. Lots of scripts. Drew's Script-O-Rama has a ton for free download. Study the movies in the same genre as yours, study the scripts, and take a close look at the pacing, story structure, and arcs.

Outline your scripts before you write them (I didn't always do this, but it's proving increasingly useful). You have ideas for scenes here and there, but those don't necessarily add up to ideas for movies. By outlining, you'll discover whether you have the foundation for a movie and all the requisite parts... You'll need to know your protagonists, antagonists, and everything about their world. You might even want to write out character histories. Study story structure and the three-act format, and think of your script in those terms. There's a formula to writing, which means that the buyers are looking for that. Learn what it is and stick to it (and then when you've mastered it, feel free to break it).

Regarding your two ideas, as I said, Hollywood wants a quick sell now. If you think one of your ideas is either too out there or too complex at this point, start simple... That's your training wheel script. Always write something you're willing to devote the time and effort to, but realize that some ideas are beyond your current scope. I'm sitting on at least three myself now, because I know I can't pull them off the way I want to yet. And when you do start writing and showing people the pages, listen to their feedback... this first script won't land you an Oscar. The first draft especially... Listen to everyone. Even if you think their notes are crap.

...If you don't yet have the drive to write, then make a routine out of it. Like going to the gym, if you sit down at the computer for an hour a day - no internet, no tv, just you and the blinking cursor - you'll start to write, if for no other reason than to pass the time. And soon enough, that hour will become part of your routine. When you miss a day, you'll regret it.

Final bit of advice - don't get ahead of yourself. First write the script. Then be patient, listen to notes, rewrite it (possibly a few times). [Everything else] comes only after all of that is done.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 127 - Give Yourself A Deadline

Right now, I'm in (what we're all hoping is) the home stretch of my script. On Friday, I got six pages of notes from the executive we're working with. Fortunately, most of them were things I had already addressed. I was hoping for a rainy weekend - as predicted - so that I could lock myself away distraction-free and write all weekend. As all you New Yorkers know, the rain never really came. Still, I cracked down for three hours a day and made some major progress. Of the six pages, I only have a few more notes to address.

Being in this stage of the re-writing process is kind of odd. It took me a while to push aside my insecurities about the caliber of work I was doing - prior to this draft, all of the notes had been more major, involving much greater changes. Due to the smaller-scale of the edits (finally, we could call most of them "tweaks"), I was worried that I wasn't achieving what I needed to. I felt like my wheels were spinning in mud and I wasn't going anywhere. When I cracked that delusion in half, I got down to business. 

A few weeks ago, my manager voiced a desire to get the script out this week. So, to try to make that goal, I gave myself a (somewhat informal) deadline of yesterday to have the script done. Six hours of work didn't accomplish everything that it had to, and by the end of the night Sunday, I was starting to stall again. That's ok, though. I emailed my producer to let her know to expect pages on Wednesday. The addition of two nights to complete the work that has to do will make me crack down hard and finish everything.

The work doesn't end once I submit the script, though. It's time to decide what my follow-up projects will be (yes, if this sounds familiar, it's because the past few weeks have been devoted to finishing the script and choosing a next project). My manager and I are narrowing it down to two ideas. Once the script is in the hands of the production company executive again, I'll have to develop the two ideas further, and then maybe focus in on one.

First thing's first, though - finish this script!