Friday, October 26, 2012

Logline Central - Left Behind

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.

For this issue of Logline Central, I want to take a look at a logline that I at first wrote off, then thought about for a second, and the wheels just started spinning. Ultimately, I think it succeeds on a number of levels and in ways that, if not written exactly as follows, could render it a failed logline.

Title:Left Behind
Logline:Centers on a group of survivors during the first few hours after the Rapture.
Writer:John Patus Paul Lalonde 
Genre:Action Thriller 
More:Reboot of the series which started in 2001. Based on the novels by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins. Paul Lalonde and Michael Walker will produce. J. David Williams will executive produce. Vic Armstrong is attached to direct. Nicolas Cage is in talks to star. The film is budgeted around $15 million. Production is planned for early spring of 2013 in Baton Rouge. 

My first reaction when reading it was, meh. What does it mean to have to "survive" for "the first few hours" after the Rapture? I don't care.

Then I thought about it. Wait a sec. This is actually pretty cool (potentially). In the Rapture, those destined to go to Heaven ascend - body and all - at either the end of days or before the second coming of Christ. As I highly doubt the Nic Cage starrer will be a theological debate, all I believe we need to know to get a handle on the idea is that the good people are all gone. The population of Earth will be (at least marginally) reduced, and those "left behind" are... not good individuals. Think, the airplane in ConAir, only it's the entire planet, and there's no John Cusack cop trying to save the day.

So, we know that the planet is now inhabited exclusively by bad people, and Nic Cage is among them. Presumably, he has to stop even worse people from doing very bad things, which, because Heaven has already been introduced via the Rapture, might earn him salvation in the end. If not full, go to Heaven salvation, then he might at least come away with the hope of entering heaven during a later Rapture (there are thought to be stages of Rapture). Either way, this could be a really interesting set up for a movie rife with bad people doing bad things in an action-packed way. 

It also has the potential to be just that and to not capitalize on the theological elements at all. The basic setup introduces the empyrean, so I have to assume that Heaven and Hell, maybe even angels or demons will be a part of the film. But that's not a guarantee. Perhaps all this is is a setup, and the rest is Nic Cage shooting people from his motorcycle. The logline doesn't offer much, but the questions it does provide are ones that pique my interest and make me want to read more. The script could very well suck for all I know, but if I was a producer and that came across my desk, I would ask to see the pages.

I looked up the writers, and they don't have many credits on imdb. That doesn't mean anything - they could have a hundred uncredited rewrite or script doctor jobs under their belts apiece, or might have sold material that never made it to the screen. (Oddly, John Patus has a writer and producer credit for something called Left Behind: World at War from 2005, about a nuclear war - no relation to this project from what I can tell.) Regardless, I think I'll track this one. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 248 - Concerns About Page Count

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the term "page count" became a part of my - and the other Leaguers' - lexicon. Much like the tools and knowledge that any craftsman wields in his labor, so is assessing the length of a script a key skill for a screenwriter. (I'm sure there are people who will disagree with me on this, but the fact of it is, people will always read the shorter script first when given material that they feel equally curious about. I know this, because that's what I did when I was a reader, it's what all readers I talk to do, and it's what my manager and producers have confirmed.)

These days, when I begin writing a screenplay, I usually have a pretty solid idea of my target page count. "This shouldn't be any more than 105, tops," I'll tell the League. And, more often than not, the finished drat will clock in at 105 on the dot - maybe a page or two shy of that, but rarely longer. Keeping track of the length of the script is closely related (in my mind) to paying attention to your outline as you write. With the outline, you know what's coming in the next scene, you know how you got there, and you know where you and your characters and story have to end up. Page count is an excellent barometer for all of this. If you look at your outline - as I did for my sci-fi thriller - and you think to yourself that a particular section seems undeniably longer than all the other parts, then there's a damn good chance that the pages will vindicate you. 

For example, in my 16 page outline, the first half of Act Two wound up coming in at about 6 full pages. That's nearly a third of the outline. Granted, some beats are overwritten in there, and many in other sections were underwritten, but my gut was telling me it was going to be a very heavily weighted section. Forget about how many outline pages it consumed for a moment; I counted the number of beats, and that quarter of the script contained far more than the other acts (or half act). With much trepidation, I set out writing the pages. Sure enough, I saw that my hunch was right before I had gotten very far. This morning, I completed my 29th page in Act Two; the script is currently 64 pages long, and the "midpoint" is at least a good 5 to 7 pages away. The next quarters of the script are a bit thinner, but I know I'm coming in at way over target. (A 35 page first act is partially responsible for that, too).

Now, if you're balking at what I'm saying, I'll give you a free shot. You're totally right in thinking a) it's only a first draft and b) scripts can be longer than 120 pages and c) who really cares? The fact is, a lot of readers still turn to pages 30, 60, and 90 to make sure you have a solid grasp of structure, so I want to make sure that I at least nail the end of act one, page 30 beat. The rest will fluctuate depending on ultimate page count. My charge now is to write the draft and then worry about how long the script is, but I don't quite want to show such a long piece to the director I'm working with on it - even if he knows it's going to be a length fist showing. 

This makes me sound like an even bigger dork than I am, if that's even possible, but I actually love line editing my scripts for page count. If I see a single word or even a couple short words hanging by themselves, taking up a whole line in the script, I will try to figure out how to say what I want more concisely. This generally results in cutting the words "just" or "seemingly" - two words I use a lot that probably shouldn't be there to begin with. So, that's a great editing and skill builder. Also, with Movie Magic, I know that I get 57 lines to a page. The software will enter a page break starting on line 53 if the next scene opens with a long descriptor paragraph or if there aren't any convenient breaks in a length bit of dialogue. Part of my editing process involves finding these reduced pages and figuring out how I can make use of those additional few lines by editing above and bumping the material that begins on the next page to the bottom of the one preceding it. I can often slice off 6 pages or more just by doing those trims - and they are almost always cosmetic only, a few words removed here or there, but no elimination of scenes or dialogue. And lastly, there are the bigger edits. This scene doesn't work, or this dialogue could be summed up or cut entirely, or that is redundant or unnecessary. 

All in all, I hope to cut about 10 pages from what i have so far. I'm not sure that will all happen before I send it to my collaborator, but that's the target when all is said and done. In the meantime, I'll keep writing with an eye on my page count. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 247 - Revising Act One

I normally try to refrain from revising pages in the middle of a draft. It disrupts momentum, slows progress, and perhaps most draining, opens the door for me to get caught up in the minutiae, rather than laying a proper foundation for a second draft. Draft one is all about getting the thoughts down on the page (hopefully successfully) and seeing what works and what doesn't. Ideally, you're working off of an outline and have already been able to piece your story together, instead of writing blindly, but it can be tough to gauge the effectiveness of the structure you're plotted until you see (and read) it in screenplay format. For all these reasons, when I bang out a first draft, I really do try to push it through as quickly, yet intelligently, as possible. I want a draft that I can print first and then edit and evaluate later. 

Last month, I submitted the first draft of act one of my sci-fi script to my writing partner, W.A. He got back to me with notes - three scenes that needed a heavier rewrite and an overall tone adjustment. Neither of us wanted the notes to inhibit continued progress in any major way. For the most part, we both felt the script was by and large on track, especially given that it was just a first draft. Still, the discussion the endued was a valuable one and a timely one. Given that W.A. had thoughts on the tone, I decided to implement that note going forward. I didn't have to redress all tone and dialogue in act one there and then, but the next 75% of the script would be more on par with what he's imagining. Once draft one is done, I will only have one act in which I need to tweak dialogue and descriptors for the tonal adjustment, rather than an entire script. As for the three big scenes, however, I wanted to go back and rewrite them then, rather than after the script's first draft is completed.

I knew that some of the changes were going to have a larger impact on the subsequent, as of yet unwritten pages. What I didn't anticipate, though, was how long they would take to implement. I targeted the second beat first, since it was the smallest. Yet while revising the scene - a fairly expositional one between the protagonist and a character who dies shortly thereafter - I began to realize a lot of things about those characters' relationship, as well as about the protagonist and his motivators. Those realizations then fed the first sequence I needed to revisit, which tie into the antagonist's goals and desires. And the third targeted sequence, well that was the most complex. I changed one thing, which raised questions about the new goals that the antagonist and protagonist had, eliminated the need for a major action piece that was necessary in terms of keeping the pace moving, and fed a lot of information into act one that was intended to come in act two. 

The two day revision became a five day revision; the result, though, is a much stronger first act. The threat, though, is that now I'm in revisionist mode, I need to either tear myself away and move forward (that's the plan) or become mired in minor edits and tweaks that I normally don't get involved in until after the draft is done. In the interest of seeing this draft through, though, I am just going to move forward and hopefully get W.A. the first half of the script within a week.

A final bit of news - my producers on my post-Apocalyptic spec have gone out with that script again, and we're being read at a few places. I have a good feeling about this round, but we'll see what happens with these latest submissions. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ken Levine's 2012 Fall Movie Preview

The witty Ken Levine does it again, folks! Check out his three-part Fall Movie Preview (an admittedly belated notice on our part)

and here.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Indiana Jones shoots a sword-wielding menace in lieu of a longer fight.

Matt Damon regales Tom Hanks with tales of his brothers in Saving Private Ryan.

A drunk throws a beer can at the eponymous actor in Being John Malkovich. 

Whether you knew it or not, or believe it or not, all of these moments were unscripted. Screen Rant has posted a list of 32 best unscripted movie moments, many of which might shock you. 

Click above for some fun weekend reading!

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 246 - Track Script Sales

It likely comes as little shock that I tune in regularly to Done Deal Pro. If you've read any of our Logline Central posts, you will have gathered that I go there for all my info on what's recently sold, been picked up in turn around, or otherwise been acquired. If you get the trades - Variety or Hollywood Reporter - or read Deadline, you can get a lot of the same info, albeit maybe less of it than through the subscription-based DDP. Regardless of where you gather info on sales and acquisitions, if you're an aspiring writer, this is something that you should make a point of doing.

I find tracking sales invaluable. For one, it lets you know what the industry is leaning toward at the moment. We all witnessed the giant vampire crazy (which I hope is nearing its conclusion). Trends don't tend to last too long in Hollywood, so noting an uptick in vampire related scripts doesn't necessarily mean you'll have time to conceive of, write, and polish a vampire story of your own. It might, however, indicate that now would be a good time to show the world the vampire script that you have already written and deemed ready for the light of day (bad pun intended). 

Tracking sales is also a great idea if you're beginning your query phase. Looking to land an agent for that big action thriller you're so jazzed about? See who is repping those kinds of sales now, and make sure you don't solicit someone who mainly deals with rom-coms. Hone your queries and chances are, you'll have better results. I was very specific in my outreach, and it paid off in forms of finding a manager. 

Speaking of, managers and agents track sales, which is another reason you should. They are busy people. Presumably, writers are also busy people. But my experience with managers and agents is that they will take the time they need, but won't have much to spare. If it is 1998 and you say, "Hey, I have this great idea about a group of soldiers who have to go find another in WW2," your rep will say, "That's already in the works." If you were tracking sales, you would have known that. The similarity doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop writing that idea, but if you have yet to begin, you might want to put it on the back burner. Save them some time by reserving that pitch for later - you'll all appreciate it. 

Most recently, I've been tracking sci-fi projects closely, as both of mine that are out there (post-Apocalyptic and the collaboration) fall heavily into that category. Unfortunately, two projects - one that is a film in theaters and one that was just announced - share more similarities with the sci-fi collaboration than my writing partner and I would like. Because of that, because we are tracking sales, we've decided to implement some large but not drastic changes going forward, so that we share fewer commonalities with these two projects. It's conceivable that the overlap won't wind up mattering, but if it's something we can avoid outright, then we decided that's what we should do. And that's just one more reason it's prudent to track acquisitions.