Friday, January 28, 2011

Cake Man's 2011 Oscar Predictions (for Writing) and the Distinction Between Original and Adapted Screenplays

As you know, the nominees for the 2011 Academy Awards were released earlier this week. In case you missed it, you can view the full roster of Oscar contenders here

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
  • “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • “Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
  • “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • “Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • “Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
  • “The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
    Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
  • “Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
  • “The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
  • “The King's Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler 
First off, a quick clarification. What designates something as adapted, versus original? In many cases, the source material is obvious - a book, comic book, newspaper article, TV show, or play. It can also be based on another film; technically, all sequels fall into this category, since the characters are from existent material (this is why Toy Story 3 is an adapted script). Interesting, or at least to me, is the fact that both The Fighter and The King's Speech, both based on documented material, are considered original works. This is because the fundamental distinction between adapted and original screenplays is whether there is previously published source material. In both cases, while the events might have been documents, there must have been no direct source from which the information is taken (i.e. the writers conducted research, but did not have to acquire rights to any one article in particular), and therefore created original scripts.

So, definitions out of the way, who do I think will win? Adapted is no question. I will be utterly floored if The Social Network's Aaron Sorkin doesn't walk home with the statuette. It is undeniably great screenwriting, and few of the other contenders even stack up against it. Maybe Winter's Bone, but I don't think it will come anywhere near close enough. And the Academy loves the Coens, but I'm still a bit surprised True Grit is gaining so much traction. Maybe in a weaker year it would have more of a chance, but I just don't get the hype. I give our buddy Zombie one free punch if I'm wrong.

As for Original Screenplay, the race is a bit closer. Kids Are All Right could take it (I don't expect it to take much else, outside of maybe acting). Same with King's Speech. In fact, King's Speech will probably take this one. I want to say Inception, because Nolan was snubbed for directing and I don't think the film will take the big award. Ultimately, as much as I want this to be inception, I will not be shocked if the award goes to David Seidler for King's Speech. I've not read either of the scripts, and I'll keep my fingers crossed for Nolan, but I have a feeling Seidler will nab it. Prove me wrong, Academy!

Finally, just for kicks, my thoughts on the top 10 picks.

Best Picture

  • “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
  • “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
  • “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
  • “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
  • “The King's Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
  • “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
  • “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
  • “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
  • “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
  • “Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers
The Academy seems to like topical films a lot, and nothing on that list is more current to me than The Social Network. It's about the biggest (or one of the leading) cultural phenomenons of today. Facebook is everywhere, and nearly everyone (except Onyx) is on it. People my age are getting hired solely to work on Facebook presence. Certain companies and corporations have even abandoned traditional websites altogether for Facebook pages. So, Social Network has current relevance going for it. In my opinion, it is also an incredibly well-made film, thoroughly engaging despite the fact that 75% of it is people sitting around various tables talking. 

For those two reasons, I'm giving the 2011 Oscar to The Social Network. 

Who do you think will win?

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 160 - How to Present Your Rep With New Ideas

Continuing with the focus of the past few weeks, I thought I'd turn a bit of attention to what, exactly, it is that I'm submitting to my reps. Before I had my manager and agent, I didn't quite know what it was a writer would share with his/her "team" when sussing out new ideas. Whole scripts? That sometimes seemed unlikely. Outlines? Verbal pitches? A logline?

The answer, I've found, can be all of the above and, often, a combination of them in a certain order. When working with my manager, as I have been the past few weeks on these ideas, we tend to start off with very general, very short bits of ideas. I'll send him a sentence or two, sometimes without much more than a vague setting, theme, or approach. For example, "Kevin, what about Gladiator underwater; a deep sea diver has to rise up against the king of Atlantis when he is taken captive." Essentially, it's a logline, but it doesn't even have to be that yet. (I'm always wary of giving what I consider to be an extreme idea, since someone out there is likely to see it and want it; if in two years, scuba-Gladiator is on the big screen, please give me a shout-out.) 

From there - and consider, we'll do this with a handful of ideas - I'll distill the approved concepts into actual loglines. The goal here is to make them more market ready, clean up the language, decide on protagonists, and make sure they read tightly. Next, we either go to the agent (or producer, etc.) with the loglines or, if we need more, I'll hit the drawing board for a bit and come up with a paragraph or two for each idea. The one or two sentence loglines become 3-5 sentence paragraphs expanding on the concepts, painting the worlds a bit more vividly, and elaborating on the protagonists' goals. 

Next, it's off to the agent or producers. The ideas only go out once. If a logline is returned without interest or fanfare, it does not become a paragraph, at least, not any time soon (for now). If the idea garners interest, the outlining phase begins. In recent years, I've really stopped writing without an outline. I find I don't have the time to spend on a draft that wanders aimlessly. That's just me. Some writers manage quite successfully without outlines, storing entire plots in their heads until they write furiously or just waiting to see where the characters take the script. That no longer works for me. 

Once an outline's approved, that's when I'll start writing. By "approved," I don't necessarily mean that my reps pour over each outline and sign off on each plot point. I have to like it, for one. More though, at this point, I'm writing a product that other people are (theoretically) saying they will stand behind. If it goes way off course of delves into the realm of "unproduceable," they let me know. Mostly, and I don't always show my reps the outline, this step is to guarantee that the larger picture still matches up with what everyone thinks is sellable. 

Granted, you say, I haven't made a sale yet. True, but hopefully these steps will bring that first paycheck about sooner, rather than later. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 159 - Trying to Come Up with New Script Ideas

Let's face it, coming up with ideas for new scripts can be hard. Especially if you're like me, you don't often just sit down at the computer or with a notebook and spend an hour trying to come up with ideas. The best ideas generally hit you when you least expect it - when you're walking to the store, on the train to work, or in the shower - and the source of their inspiration can be impossible to find. Maybe you saw something that triggered the idea. Maybe you remembered something. Maybe there's no logical explanation for it at all, but whatever electrical synapse that just fired through your brain left you with the germ of a script that you cannot wait to start writing.

For me, those experiences that come out of nowhere are how I generally come up with new ideas. I rely on those eureka moments to keep me in pages for the next three to six months. But what happens when you don't have the time to wait for those moments to hit?

As it happens now, I'm in that less desirable place. I need to get my agent new ideas, because we haven't found one that quite clicked for him yet. Sure, I have dozens of ideas logged in my "Logline Master List" document, but I track the market and know that a lot of them aren't right yet. Also, since the project that I have producers, a manager, a lawyer, and an agent for is a tentpole action piece, that's the kind of script I'm working on developing more of. Problem is, a lot of my ideas in that master list are much smaller, more appropriate for an indie production company than a major studio's summer flagship.

On Friday, I made myself sit down for an hour and come up with other loglines. I think I got about five. Of those, there were maybe only two I'd really want to invest a lot of time in now, and many of them were quite similar in nature, only set in different worlds. I had a bit of an ah-ha moment yesterday while taking a walk (which I did in part to get the creative juices flowing), and as much as I like the idea, I think it still might be too small. In the end, though, I need more ideas and as much as just staring at a blank drawing board can be frustratingly unproductive, an hour spent with a notebook in hand is better than a night spent without even trying. The routine you find yourself in can be essential to your writing process, and I know that by forcing myself to sit with a pen and paper for an hour, no matter how much my mind might want to wander, but focusing and concentrating I will eventually come up with something (even if it's just the fuel that sparks an idea while I'm on the train to work the next day).

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 158 - Patience and Expectations

Here's an interesting paradox: new writers tend to think that getting an agent or a manager or a lawyer is the end all and be all first major goal of breaking into Hollywood, that once that is accomplished, everything is smooth sailing ahead. (If I'm the only writer to have ever thought that, I'll need some help picking my jaw up off the floor.) The truth of it is, though, getting an agent or a manager is not a perfect cure. It is not a guarantee.

If you've been reading my posts for a while, you're aware of the fact that it has been over two years - two! - since I've been repped up. Those two years, the hours and rewrites and development calls, have, for our purposes here, all been related to my post-Apocalyptic spec. My second and current manager, who I have been with for over a year and a half now, has helped get the script to some very important and influential people. He's helped further it along to places that still really exist first and foremost in the realm of dreams to me. Producers have come on board, and, through them or with their help, my agent and current lawyer. 

Still, it's been over a year and a half, and there's no sale to show for our work. (This is a point, not a complaint. We're still waiting to hear from a major studio any day now and have a meeting with a production company before this month is out.) Before him, there was four months with my first manager, and two month after him in which I wasn't with anyone. The point in all that is that these things take time. Lots of time. Landing an agent or a manager or a lawyer or a big time producer does not mean your script will necessarily sell tomorrow. Especially with the state of the industry still being the rocky, insecure, ghost of its former self that it is now, buyers are acting with much more hesitation than before. The thinking that, "I got an agent, time to quit my job" is no longer anywhere near logical (not that I'd have advocated such rash behavior before, either). 

The truth of my situation now is that I'm still trying to come up with the project that really tantalizes my agent. I've sent him a few ideas that I thought were slam dunks, and they were both received luke-warmly, at best. He knows the market now; I have to trust that. Still, the difference is that, in the past, I was writing for myself. Now, I'm also writing for him, and if he says something might not fly, or isn't for him (and he's the one who is going to try to sell it), I have to listen to that. Was I wasting time before, when I was writing whatever I wanted to? No, I don't think so. At least, no more than I sometimes feel I might be wasting time trying to develop yet more ideas, when I have pages that I feel equipped to begin working on now. The game has changed for me, and I recognize that. 

I say it time and again, and I'll do it once more here. If you're reading this, I hope it might be because you're looking to break into screenwriting as a career, and are interested in what it takes, what to expect, and how to go about getting your foot in the door. Well, the two biggest things I can advocate for emerging writers are: patience and managed expectations. Be patient with the industry (readers, agents, producers, everyone). It might take them a long time to read your script, to get back to you, to sell material to people who are interested. Put it out of mind and work on something else in the mean time. And, so as to not drive yourself nuts, do enough reading and preparation to have reasonably managed expectations. A meeting does not mean a sale. A sale does not mean a million dollar. Know what to logically expect, and train yourself not to deceive yourself. This is a tough business, and, I've found, patience and managed expectations are two of the most valuable tools you should bring to it. 

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 157 - New Computer, New Script, New Year

2011 is starting out as a year of new things for me. For starters, it's my first foray into the world of Mac since I was in sixth grade. I'd found that my Dell was growing slower and slower, especially recently. When working in Word, there'd be a noticeable lag between when I typed something, and when it would actually appear on the screen. I stopped trusting the machine I was working on, and as I'm sure you can relate to, that's a horrible thing for a writer. No matter what your medium you write in, whether it's paper or computer or voice recording, that becomes an integral part of your process, and for it to become a potential hindrance means it's got to go. It's sort of like wherever you choose to write, be it a coffee shop, office, or your home - when it stops helping you produce pages, or hurts your concentration, it's violated the most basic tenet of being a writer's tool.

So, this year, thanks to a generous gift from my parents, I became a Mac user again. (When I was really young, we had one of the first PowerBooks Mac - then still officially MacIntosh - made.) I know that the fact the computer is about two years newer than my old one means it will, by its very nature, be faster, but I'm quite pleased with it. I could do without all the pretension from the employees at the Mac store I spoke to when needing help with a few start-up issues, but the machine is much sleeker and far less clunky than the old one. I had to hold my breath as I installed Movie Magic 2000, not sure if it would take (my version's almost 7 years old at this point), and then had to reanimate my first laptop (intermittently dead and alive for 3 years now) in order to uninstall the software so I could boot it up on the new machine. But all seems to have been brought over successfully, so hopefully 2011 will further acquaint me with the pleasures of writing scripts on an Apple machine.

Speaking of writing in 2011, as I lay in bed last night, a terrible worry came over me. It was the realization - at midnight, no less - that two weeks from now will mark the three month point since my trip to LA, in which I was instructed to just keep writing. The reason for the cold sweat is that, in all honesty, I have produced nothing since then. Well, no pages, at least. I've come up with a dozen loglines and settled on a couple to pursue. But there's no script to show for it. For a lark, I opened Movie Magic and wrote an off-the-cuff first scene for a project I like, but it's not one of the two I'm to pursue. I spent not nearly enough time over the holiday week conducting a bit of research, settling on a location, and doing some general outlining for the spy project I've decided to launch into. On the whole, though, I wasn't sure the next step.

Then, as fear and worry can often spark creativity, I had an idea. More specifically, I envisioned the opening shot of my script. Such a small beat, yet such a relief. My mind settled, eased, reassured that there can and will, in fact, be more than just research sessions to show for the script. With the first beat can come the second, and with the second, the third, until there's a first act, a second, and an entire script.  The goal for this week is to complete a rough outline, and arrive at that three month marker with at least the treatment, if not the first few pages, as well. 

Entertainment Weekly's 25 Movies to See Before the Oscars, 2011

Entertainment Weekly's latest issues revealed their 25 Movies to Watch Before the Oscars. See below for a complete list.

The Social Network - on DVD Jan 11
The King's Speech - in theaters now
Inception - now on DVD
The Fighter - in theaters now
Toy Story 3 - now on DVD
True Grit - in theaters now
Black Swan - in theaters now
The Kids Are All Right - now on DVD
127 Hours - in theaters now
Winter's Bone - now on DVD
The Town - now on DVD
Rabbit Hole - goes wide Jan 14
Another Year - goes wide sometime in January
Get Low - DVD Feb 22
How to Train Your Dragon - now on DVD
Blue Valentine - goes wide sometime in January
Biutiful - goes wide Jan 28
Animal Kingdom - on DVD Jan 18
Waiting for Superman - on DVD in Feb
Alice in Wonderland - now on DVD
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - now on DVD
Inside Job - goes wide Jan 28
The Illusionist - goes wide Jan 14
Tangled - in theaters now
Burlesque - in theaters now

I was surprised by a few things when I saw this list. First, mainly, that I had only seen 12 of the 25. Granted, a few haven't gone wide yet, but it's a safe bet that if they're out there trying to sneak in for Oscar 2011, they're playing in New York City. Second, movies like Tangled, Burlesque, and Alice in Wonderland surprised me. Maybe some technical awards for Alice are possible, but I'd be surprised if it gained much more recognition than that (other, ahem, than it's epic box office). Get Low and Animal Kingdom were pleasant surprises, and the first 11 were, in my opinion, givens. 

Anything you feel they left out?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy 2011

Happy New Year, writers! May 2011 bring scripts, sales, and success to all of you, from all of us at The League.