Tag Archives: screenplay

TOP 9 FILMS THAT DESERVED A SEQUEL

There are many film franchises that seem to go on forever. Many of which we could well do without.  However, once in a while a movie comes along that deserves  a sequel but for one reason or other never had another instalment made. So without further ado, here is my top pick of the best movies that deserved a sequel but never got one…

 

Magnificent poster… sort of pretty good film.

DOC SAVAGE (1975)

Old was new again in the 1970s. If Star Wars channelled the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, then Doc Savage channelled, well, Doc Savage! The mightiest of pulp heroes was reborn with former TV Tarzan Ron Ely stepping into the jodphurs. Also known as The Man of Bronze (he likes bronze things) we catch up with Doc meditating in the Arctic beside his own private igloo-come-secret-headquarters before he gets a message that the world is in peril. Doc assembles his team of – ahem – experts, including national stereotypes from around the world (the Brit carries an umbrella, the Irishman has red hair and carries a pig etc etc) to stop an evil cult unleashing animated green snakes on the population while they search for El Dorado. Yes, it’s that kind of a plot.

What makes Doc Savage so good, however, is the hokey sense of humour. We see Doc pull a bullet out of a wall with such force that his bulging bicep tears his own shirt apart. And the finale which features Doc employing dozens of different kinds of martial art, each with its own subtitle, will make the kid in you chortle for more.

At the end of this rip-roaring adventure, we are told Doc Savage will return in Doc Savage and The Arch Enemy of the World. Unfortunately, the producers lied. There were indeed plans for a sequel, but despite being directed by the great George Pal (War of the Worlds) the film suffered from negative reviews and a sequel was abandoned.

Will it ever be made?

Probably not. Since 1975, several attempts to make a new Doc Savage film have failed. Notably, Frank Darabont and Sam Raimi have all tried to resurrect the project, but so far none have succeeded. At the age of 80, Ron Ely is probably not a contender to reprise his earlier role. However, we do already have a “Doc Savage remake” in the form of none other than Indiana Jones. The titular hero of several films is undoubtedly closely based on Doc Savage and other pulp heroes of the time!

 

FLASH GORDON (1980)

“Flash! Flash, I Love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!”

So says Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) in what is to date the best live action version of the iconic pulp fiction character Flash Gordon. The movie sees Flash (Sam J Jones) and his compatriots Dale and Zarkov (Topol) land on the Planet Mongo to try and stop the evil alien dictator Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). The film sees Flash go from hero to zero to hero as he is killed (!) then resurrected, only to unite the tribes of Mongo and overthrow Ming’s rule. But Ming is not quite dead. As the closing credits roll, we see Ming re-emerge offscreen from his “magic” ring and start to cackle with evil laughter. “The End?” asks the title card.

Sadly, yes it was. Although a terrific, fun movie with a legendary Queen soundtrack, Flash Gordon was not a huge success compared to its large budget. Added to this was a reported falling out between star Jones and the producers. Hence a sequel was never made. Since then we’ve had a lacklustre TV series and a superb animated version. But so far we have yet to learn what happened when Ming returned.

Will it ever be made?

Well, the hugely successful gross-out comedy Ted (2012) saw Jones once again donning the lightning-bolt in a dream sequence where he rides his skycycle with Mark Wahlberg on the back. Jones retuned again as himself in Ted 2 (2015). But with an ageing cast who have since become successful in their own right, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get to hear Prince Vultan’s imperious voice belting out “Gordon’s alive?” again any time soon. We’re more likely to settle for a CGI-heavy reboot.

 

I literally cannot believe that I never mentioned Hawk the Slayer before.

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)

The early 1980s were a strange time. Take this British fantasy film starring the mighty Jack Palance as the evil Zoltan (Hmm, that name seems familiar) who murders the beloved of straight-laced Hawk, who promptly puts his eye out with a torch. Zoltan, quite understandably peeved at this, raises an army to go around and pillage stuff in the service of an evil sorcerer/demon/ the Devil (?). Our hero Hawk responds by raising a rag-tag band of mercenaries (was there ever any other kind?) including the last elf, a giant (well, a very big man anyway), a dwarf, a one-armed bloke with some kind of wicked semi-automatic crossbow-thingy, and a witch who likes letting off party streamers. Cue Armageddon.

It sounds like I’m poking fun at this film, and I am. But I still love it dearly. The score is a fantastic mixture of electronic synth-pop craziness that is more than a little like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, and the last elf in the world is a great character. There are also some terrific British character actors such as Patrick Magee and Roy Kinnear who ham it up to the max. And we get to see Palance at his scenery-chewing finest.

We end with Zoltan’s mentor/demon/whatever recovering his body and promising he will live again. But will he?

Will it ever happen?

Believe it or not, it almost has. As late as 2015 a sequel called Hawk the Hunter was rumoured to be in development with a budget of $5 million. However the Kickstarter campaign failed and so far attempts to make the sequel have gone quiet. But with Rebellion, the game company that owns British comic 200AD planning to release a game based on the property and a potential TV series in the works, anything is possible!

 

You may be cool, but you’ll never be Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald on an alien desert planet cool.

SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE! (1983)

Ah, the Eighties. Among other things, it gave us two Hollywood icons: king of the TV movie Peter Strauss and princess of coming-of-age movies Molly Ringwald. So it was inevitable that at some point they would appear in the same sci-fi movie together!

The movie is an enjoyable-as-hell Mad Max clone set in outer space. Strauss plays an interstellar bounty-hunter (Wolff, with two “f”s ) who lands on an irradiated planet full of mutants and Road Warrior leftovers looking for three shipwrecked (or is that space-wrecked?) rich girls. Along the way he picks up Ringwald, who does her typical dishevelled-waif-who-later-turns-into-fanciable-princess thing. Add a rabid Michael Ironside into the mix as warlord Overdog (was there ever a better bad guy name?) and you have the awesomeness that is Spacehunter! Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, it was filmed in 3D!!

Will it ever be made?

No.

I love this movie. It is cheesy, but the practical effects mean that it has dated pretty well. There are a lot of very derivative ideas, but so what? It’s a hugely entertaining movie that is basically wish fulfilment. It’s also the kind of film I wish they made more of nowadays. An adventure yarn and nothing more with no pretensions of grandeur. I would love the hell out of a sequel starring Mr. Strauss, but I doubt very much whether he would pick up that mantle again, especially as he is now a successful citrus-farmer and former horse ranch owner. Animated series, anybody?

 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

Okay, at this point if I have to tell you very much about Big Trouble in Little China, the John Carpenter movie with Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall and James Hong, we are in big trouble ourselves. Briefly, the plot is an insane mash-up of martial-arts movie, 1970s exploitation film, action film, comedy and supernatural horror featuring a truck driver (Russell) who goes up against centuries-old supernatural bad guy Lo Pan to recover the girlfriend of his Chinese-American friend (Dennis Dunn) and her reporter friend (Cattrall in her best film role), along with bus-driver and warlock Egg Shen. Got it? Good.

The film ends with Russell famously leaving Cattrall (what a dope!) and heading off in his trusty rig, the Pork Chop Express, driving into the night and issuing a salutary warning to other CB radio users that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in anybody’s philosophy. Cue an oriental demon that crawls up the back of his truck, hungry for revenge!

Will it happen?

Very possibly!

Although there has been a graphic novel follow-up, Dwayne Johnson (yes, that one) was reportedly attached to develop a remake. Carpenter responded by saying he was “ambivalent” about the project.  Phew. However, as late as 2018 Seven Bucks Productions confirmed they are developing a sequel, no less, with Russell in the lead! Let’s hope it happens, as nobody can replace Russell as hard-boiled but inept actin hero Jack Burton.

 

The Goonies, making overweight kids everywhere feel terrible about their bodies.

THE GOONIES (1985)

Another film that should hopefully need no explanation, this movie about a bunch of high school losers following a treasure map was one of the best adventure films of the 1980s. With a memorable soundtrack and feel-good performances the film was a bone-fide sensation.

Will it happen?

There have been as many rumours about a Goonies sequel as there are clues to One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Director Richard Donner and the film’s stars have said yes and no several times. Why on earth no sequel was made nearer the time is a mystery. Several of the cast such as Josh Brolin and Sean Astin have gone on to bigger and bigger roles, making a reunion unlikely. But… you never know. As recently as 2017 former stars were saying a remake would happen, although original writer Chris Columbus played down such rumours. But with a slimmed down Chunk and Brolin currently playing Thanos… well, I’m not going to say one way or the other.

 

Spooky but fun: Loose Women – I mean, Hocus Pocus.

HOCUS POCUS (1993)

This massively enjoyable film has become a Halloween favourite. A live-action Disney picture like the ones they used to make, it stars the irreplaceable Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and rubber-faced Kathy Najimy as three witch sisters who get a second chance at life one Halloween, provided they sacrifice a sweet little girl. Her brother, however has other ideas, as does a reanimated cat. The witches cause mayhem in the modern American town, but it’s all good, clean spooky fun along with some killer songs from Midler and Parker. The film ends with the witches ending up as toast while the family gets a much-deserved happy ever after, even the cat.

Will it be made?

It seems everyone wants a sequel except the studio. Stars Midler and Parker have both said they would return to reprise their roles. The film suffered from negative reviews on release but has a strong fan base on home video that has made it a family favourite. There has even been a novelisation set 25 years later. As of 2017 screenwriter Mick Garris said he was working on a sequel, but this turned out later to be a remake, which has yet to materialize. But if it’s one thing we have learned, thanks to the success of Twin Peaks and Tron Legacy, it’s that long-delayed sequels can work. Let’s hope Disney sees sense and gives us another helping of the Sanderson sisters rather than a sloppy remake.

 

    Tron Legacy. Like Tron, only more so.

TRON LEGACY (2010)

For some reason, this film is often underrated or overlooked. Yet it stands as one of the most visually stunning sci-fi films of recent years and has a phenomenal soundtrack from Daft Punk that has become the background to many a car advert.

The film is a direct sequel to ground-breaking 1982 Disney film Tron about a computer programmer, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who is zapped into his own machine and forced to play video games for his life. The sequel follows Flynn’s son (Garett Hedlund) who is similarly zapped while searching for his dad, who has been missing for over 20 years. Turns out dad was trapped in the video world after one of his creations (also played by Jeff Bridges but digitally de-aged) seized control of the computer domain.

The film is full of stunning SFX and set-pieces, such as the all-new light-cycles, while new discovery Olivia Wilde sets the screen alight as kick-ass pixie dream girl Quora. Shot in 3D, the films used some experimental FX which perhaps do not stand up well to repeated viewings, but as a sci-fi film with a real heart and soul, which takes the original further, it is a highly satisfying and entertaining ride.

Will it happen?

Who knows? There has already been an animated cartoon series. For several years Disney has been on and off about the project. Its stars and director joseph Kosinski have repeatedly said it is or is not happening. The latest status for the project is that it is in “cryogenic freeze”. But just like Tron himself, here’s hoping that you can’t keep a good program down forever.

 

Gremlins (1984). Cuter than their CGI cousins.

GREMLINS II (1990)

The original Gremlins (1984) was a breakout summer hit that was, sadly, classified as a 15 in the UK, meaning I didn’t get to watch it in the cinema. However, this loveable tale of homicidal mutant creatures on the rampage in a small town one Christmas has become a holiday favourite. It spawned a sequel in 1990 that was, shall we say, not up to par. Despite the presence of Christopher Lee, the second tale set in a biotechnology lab lacked the charm of the original, with its ho-hum premise and its constant riffing off other Hollywood films – notably the Rambo trilogy.  It seemed like we had heard the last of the friendly little Mogwai and his rather more disturbing alter-egos.

Will it be made?

Probably.

For the past few years, Gremlins 3 has been gaining more and more traction. Its star Zach Galligan has been actively campaigning for a practical effects-based sequel. Ideas such as Gremlins in Vegas and Gremlins in the White House (God, please no) have been mooted.  Writer Chris Columbus has suggested the story go into some very dark places indeed.  It seems we may get a Gremlins sequel, but not the one we imagined. That little Mogwai is always full of surprises…

So there ends my top 9 films that deserved a sequel. Do you agree with this list? Have I left anything out? Let me know, and I may just have to write a sequel!

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Interview in InkTip magazine

Here’s a cover of InkTip magazine containing the recent interview about my produced feature film, THE STUDENT (2017).

Directed by Steven R Monroe (I Spit On Your Grave) and produced by The Cartel in Hollywood, the movie tells the story of Abigail Hardacre, an uncompromising law professor who is a stickler for obeying the rules. But when she fails a student who has sociopathic tendencies, he sets out to teach her a lesson, one she will never forget.

The film stars Blake Michael as the student, Vincent Van Sickle, and Alicia Leigh Willis as Abigail. You can watch it here.

The interview details my writing process and also the inspiration for writing the story.

InkTip have been going strong for over 10 years now as the number one independent writer’s listing service for scripts on the internet.

https://www.amazon.com/Student-Alicia-Leigh-Willis/dp/B073VDHDJC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521643945&sr=8-1&keywords=the+student+alicia+willis

 

 

How to sell a screenplay to Hollywood while living in the UK – Part Two!

Here is the second part of my article on how to actually sell screenplays for film and television to Hollywood while living abroad, for instance, in the UK. This may seem like a daunting if not impossible task. But let me assure you, it can be done.

To recap what we learned last time:

 

Step One – Write the screenplay

Last time we covered the fact that there really is no magic bullet, no secret trick for success. Also, be prepared for failure. You will encounter rejection. Lots of it. But the beauty of writing is that there is no way to “fail” providing you keep learning and improving in terms of skill.

 

Step Two – Learn about the business

We also covered the importance of leaning about the movie business. Doing this will help you understand what types of script people want and the different people who work in the industry: agents, managers, producers, actors, directors and executives. Learn their jobs. Discover what it is they are looking for.

 

So without further delay, on to Step Three!

 

Nicholas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in "Adaptation" by Charlie Kaufman.

Nicholas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in “Adaptation” by Charlie Kaufman.

 

Step Three – Reverse engineer your career

What kind of writer do you want to be? Do you know the kind of screenplays you wish to write? Do you long to write character-driven indie productions or big tentpole pictures? And do you know how to get there?

When I was first starting out, I knew my strengths were writing action scenes, creating cool, often fantastical images and snappy dialogue. I am also a huge comic book fan and enjoy adapting material from other sources. So I looked at what it takes to be a successful studio writer for hire.

I wrote that down.

Then I looked at the easiest way to become that kind of writer: get an agent and get handed writing assignments. Okay, now how to get an agent… I found that it was possible to submit directly but that this was unlikely to garner results. Many (but by no means all) agents pick up clients based on recommendations from other people. So I knew I needed an established track record of sales or options to get their attention.

Backtrack a little: how do you get a sale or option without any contacts and without living in Hollywood?

I scoured the Internet for sources to help get screenplays produced and to meet other people who might be able to give me that recommendation. I discovered listing sites like Inktip and others where you can even pitch direct to an agency via Skype or in writing.  It’s no longer necessary to live in L.A. to sell pictures to Hollywood. That’s another screenwriting “lie” you can expect to hear a lot. Does it help? Sure. But you still need an awful lot of luck and talent.

So I wrote down where I wanted to be. Then I listed all the steps that could get me there. Then I simply followed those steps!

Obviously, it’s not that simple. Would that it were. Some steps are much harder to take than others and none of them ensures your script will be accepted. But this kind of mind-mapping can be a good way to focus your career and create a strategy. There are many routes to getting a film made. The above methods are just a few of them.

One strategy for success is copying the strategies of others who are successful. For this I recommend studying how big name screenwriters got where they are. Read Tales from the Script edited by Peter Hanson and Robert Hermann to get an idea of how top Hollywood writers made it in L.A. There’s no one path. Joe Eszterhas was a journalist, William Goldman a playwright and novelist, Antwone Fisher was a security guard at the studio that produced his incredible life story. Paths to success can be as individual as the writers themselves.

This is the biggest step. It requires time and commitment. Read the stories of other writers. Listen to interviews and podcasts. The Internet contains a wealth of information. Use as many free resources as you can find. That’s really the only way to find out what working as a screenwriter is really like. Without working as screenwriter, of course.

 

Step Four – Don’t quit.

You only fail by quitting.

Along the way I have seen many people give up on screenwriting for a variety of reasons. They have a family to support and have to get a “real” job.  They don’t have the time. They can’t stand the constant rejection.

In order to be taken seriously in this business, you have to take the business seriously. Like any career, screenwriting requires an investment of time and money from you. You have to commit to it.

Write. Read. Submit. Repeat.

 

Step Five – No, really. Don’t quit.

It’s easy to be crushed by rejection. When you’re typing away in solitary confinement, day after day, it’s also easy to get bitter and frustrated. It’s also very easy to get desperate, especially when you need money.

If you do need money, I recommend getting a job that will allow you to write. A 9 to 5 job will grind you down. A vocation will demand too much of you. Find something that will leave you time to write each day.

One thing you must do is learn to love the process. By this, I mean the process of Writing, reading, submitting and repeating.

You won’t hear back from everyone who requests a copy of your script (Annoying as that is, but true for so many reasons it’s impossible to list them). Even if it is accepted your work may be rewritten. You may be fired from projects. Not paid for others. Projects you invest lots of time in will come to nothing. People you work with may be difficult, others will be pleasantly professional. You may even become friends with some of them – and wouldn’t that be cool?

Elliott Grove in his excellent book Raindance Writer’s Lab says you should rephrase the statistics. Think of every rejection as bringing you one step closer to a “yes”. And you only need one “yes” to make it happen.

Good luck!

 

How to Sell a Screenplay to Hollywood from the UK – Part One

trumbo

The screenwriter’s dream: now you too can get to work in the bath.

 

Okay, here is the big one. How do you sell a screenplay to Hollywood while living in the UK? I suppose this is what this blog is supposed to be all about. So let me take you through the steps involved. Sounds simple, right?

First of all, about myself: I am a British screenwriter, but I’ve made spec sales and had options with companies in the UK, Europe and Los Angeles, USA.

Secondly, as William Goldman famously said: “Nobody knows anything”. He was talking about the movie business. So as you read this, please place your tongue firmly in your cheek and take all of this with that pinch of salt.

However, this being the confessions of an English screenwriter and all, I thought I should at least attempt to share with you what I have learned when trying to sell a script to Hollywood without having to go and live in L.A..

And what better way to start than with the secret “one easy step to success”?

The secret trick to success

First of all, here is the secret trick — the magic bullet, if you will — that all professional writers know about…

Ready?

There is no magic bullet!

Yes, that’s right. There is no secret trick to selling a screenplay. No magic bullet. No one way that ensures success. There is only hard work, practice, lots of practice, a lot of luck, and a lot of failure.

“What? I’m going to fail?”

Yes. You will fail. Sometimes spectacularly. Sometimes you will want to quit. But to quote from Benjamin Franklin “Energy and persistence conquer all things”. That is especially true of screenwriting.

Let me explain…

There is no one way to sell or option a script today. Elliott Grove in his excellent book “Randance Writer’s Lab” compares the movie industry to an enormous building full of doors. Behind those doors are the people who you can make deals with or who can further your career in some way: agents, industry executives, producers, etc.

Your job is to get in the doors. It doesn’t matter which one. Just keep trying.

Now all this sounds pretty wishy-washy, so let’s get down to brass tacks.

Step One – Write the screenplay

The first step to selling to Hollywood is: you must be able to write great screenplays. This is not as easy as it sounds. Many writers produce script after script which never sells. But as long as you are learning your craft, you are progressing.

“But how come so many bad movies get made? I just saw a terrible movie. I could write better than that!”

Yes. Bad movies do get made. For a variety of reasons. Sometimes a producer just desperately needs a screenplay because they have actors or locations available. Sometimes studios butcher screenplays because they’re trying to appeal to a broader audience than the material can support. Sometimes a “star” will insist that the script goes in a terrible direction to make them look good. Sometimes a hurricane will blow the set away. The list goes on. And don’t forget that making movies is hard. Really hard. Heck, if it was easy everybody would be doing it, right? Just because you can spot a bad movie doesn’t mean you can make a good one.

You must write, write, write. Devour all the screenwriting books you can find.

You must read screenplays. Actually read them.

Watch movies. A lot of movies. Deconstruct them on paper to see how they work.

This will require you to invest time in your craft and will also involve spending money. A lot of money.  In short, you must approach screenwriting like a job. Because that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

I can’t stress Step One enough. You will be up against UCLA college graduates who have done nothing but read and write screenplays for the past 3 years. Think you can measure up to them? Knowing your craft is the only part of the business you can control. So make sure you deliver a superb script. “Competent” is not enough. “Good” is not enough. Your screenplay must be “great” to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of screenplays circulating every year.

Got that? Good.

Once you’ve done all that, you may be ready for step two:

Step Two – Learn about the Business

Let’s go back to Elliot Grove’s comparison of the movie industry to a building full of doors. Behind those doors are the people you want to do business with. And this IS a business, make no mistake. It’s called “Showbusiness” for a reason. Yes, you can enjoy giving your creativity full reign when you come up with an amazing scene. But remember that you have to sell the script when it’s done. And like any salesman, you must know what people want.

One mistake writers often make is to try to predict trends. Every now and then a movie does phenomenal business at the box office. For up to a year afterwards, everybody wants something similar, be it “Memento” or “Saw” or “The Lord of the Rings”. You may be tempted to begin work on a similar project, hoping that people will go crazy for it. But by the time you have finished your script, which can take anywhere from a month to even years, the market will have moved on, and people will be clamoring for the next big thing.

What’s a writer to do?

Instead of thinking in terms of the hot movie genre, you should think more in terms of what is sellable. You will find that certain types of movies are always in demand, while others are pretty much dead. For instance, don’t bother writing that Western or Period Drama. Even if you see a major picture in those genres. The spec market for those films are almost impossible to break into. Most new films in those genres are initiated by the studio, who then hires a writer for the project.

(Caveat: remember how we said that nobody knows anything?)

My advice is, if you have a great idea for a new Queen Boadicea film, turn it into a novel. Then Hollywood can come to you when it sells a million copies. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Genres that are always in demand?

Cheap ones.

Block Comedies, low budget horror movies, found footage movies (a recent trend which probably will not continue as the justification behind them becomes more and more bizarre), movies without lots of SFX, low budget thrillers, “contained” movies with only a few locations or characters.

Did I mention cheap?

One of the biggest independent hits of all time, “Halloween”, which launched the careers of John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, was about a man in a William Shatner mask walking around homes with a knife. It was made for $325,000 and raked in $47 million at the box office alone.

There are several other things you must know about the movie industry before embarking on your odyssey to net that lucrative spec sale.

What is a spec sale?

A spec is a screenplay initiated by a writer who has not been hired to write a screenplay. That’s about it.

Sometimes studios mainly generate their own projects and put calls out to everyone they know (agents, managers, producers) that they are looking for writers for the project. The lucky writer than gets to “pitch” their take on the material to the studio. These jobs are called assignments.

The film industry is bigger than Hollywood.

Motion pictures are made all over the world these days. China is a huge upcoming market. My first option was to a company based in Germany. I’ve also written for companies in England and Canada as well as the USA. Plus, nowadays everyone can be a filmmaker. Just invest in a decent phone camera. Recent indie breakout hit “Tangerine” was filmed entirely on an iPhone. Now you too can be Cecil B DeMille! (note: if you don’t know who Cecil B DeMille is, stop reading this immediately and go watch a ton of old movies made before 1960. I’m serious).

Sales vs Options

More fun terms! In the movie industry, you don’t have to sell your screenplay until it’s produced. You can option it instead. The producer usually pays you less money than they would for a sale. They then have the option, within a specified period (say, 12 months) to get the money to make the picture. If they do, you should be then paid more money to sell the script to them. If not, you get the rights to the script back. It’s a win-win for a newbie screenwriter.

However, an option can also be a disappointment if the producer is not willing to pay a lot. I have seen (and signed) options for as little as $1. Are you being taken advantage of? Well, that depends on where you are in your career. A dollar option to someone with no credits whatsoever is a step up the ladder.

So, to recap: there is no one way to sell a script. You can sell screenplays around the world these days, thanks to the Internet. But you must work on your craft. Read as much as you can. Read screenwriting books, read online articles (there are many free ones), read the trades (by which I mean the trade magazines such as Variety or The Hollywood Reporter – all of which are online), subscribe to newsletters. The Scoggins Report can also give you invaluable guidance as to which companies are buying which type of script. These will all give you a feel for how the industry operates. You must become familiar with this, because these are the people you will be trying to sell your work to.

Hot tip: You will find that writing equates to about half of a screenwriter’s working life. The rest involves that dreaded word: marketing. You must become your own PR expert, agent, manager and marketing guru, because that is how you are going to sell your script. Enjoy!

In the next part we’ll look at what to do after you’ve written the script, and how to (hopefully) get it into the hands of Hollywood professionals!

It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

See you next time!

THE MOST VISUALLY STUNNING FILMS EVER MADE

There have been some beautiful films made. The films in this list aren’t necessarily the prettiest, but they all share some of the most visually striking images ever committed to film. The films below may be obvious, or they may be obscure. But they were all made by master directors who can tell a story visually.

 

A still from Sunrise. Watching this Oscar-wining silent movie is an unforgettable experience.

A still from Sunrise. Watching this Oscar-wining silent movie is an unforgettable experience.

 

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
The first in our list is a silent movie that has to be seen to be believed. Every frame is like a wonderful painting coming to life. Added to that, the film is filled with cinematic tricks, double exposures, and everything but the kitchen sink. FW Murnau was lured to Hollywood after making Nosferatu by the promise of being able to do whatever he wanted. The result is this awesome film that tells a very simple story in a very imaginative way.

 

Fantasia (1940)
Fantasia is the first animated Walt Disney feature film to depict classical music though animation. It’s gorgeous, funny and thrilling, comprising dancing ostriches, nymphs and satyrs, dinosaurs and demons. Apparently Disney wanted to make more experimental films, but the Second World War destroyed his foreign markets so he had to go back to fairy stories. It makes you wonder where he would have gone from here had not WWII intervened.

 

The Red Shoes (1948)
Powell and Pressburger made some beautiful films, such as A Matter of Life and Death with its celestial court, Black Narcissus and Tales of Hoffman. But this updated fairy tale is a gorgeous riot of colour filled with tableauesque shots like oil paintings come to life. Martin Scorsese’s favourite film.

 

A gorgeous technicolor moment in The Red Shoes.

A gorgeous Technicolor moment from The Red Shoes.

 

 

The Third Man (1949)
The black and white photography is perfectly suited to post-war Vienna and the shady dealings in Graeme Greene’s crime thriller. But it’s the final underground chase scenes involving the mysterious Harry Lime that makes this one of the best photographed films I’ve seen. The Vienna sewers become a nightmarish funfair ride to the accompaniment of that famous balalaika!

 

Night of the Hunter (1955)
Who can ever forget the image of the murdered mother at the bottom of the river, her hair floating in the ghostly current? Or the tattooed knuckles of Robert Mitchum? Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort is an American Gothic pastoral fable filled with iconic, haunted images.

 

Lillian Gish keeps a lonely village in Night of the Hunter.

Lillian Gish keeps a lonely village in Night of the Hunter.

 

Vertigo (1958)
Alfred Hitchcock’s most handsome production sees James Stewart haunted by the memory of a lost love, only to find it again in Kim Novak, who so clearly resembles his former lover that he even remakes her in that image. Right from the title, this film is a delight to watch, with terrific composition, all of Hitchcock’s trademark camera tricks, and an intense performance by Stewart. By the end of it you will be dizzy!

 

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
David Lean’s masterpiece is a true desert epic. There are giant vistas, sand dunes and Arab armies mounted on camels. But there are also much subtler moments of symbolism – the way the Arabs follow Lawrence’s shadow on the ground as he postures after winning a battle. A legendary film that deserves every one of its accolades.

 

Japanese ghost stories come to life in Kwaidan.

Japanese ghost stories come to life in Kwaidan.

 

Kwaidan (1964)
The most expensive film ever shot in Japan for a time, Kwaidan tells several ghost stories set in that country’s feudal history. The first, Snow Woman, is probably the most beautiful to look at. Shot in colour, but with sets that were hand painted by the filmmaker, it makes you feel cold just watching it. Well worth tracking down.

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Little needs to be said about this sci-fi classic. Its groundbreaking sets and models paved the way for movies like Star Wars a decade later. Indeed, its incredible just how well the space scenes stand up. Also refreshing is the lack of sound in space, which really amps up the tension when the astronauts face off against psychotic supercomputer HAL in the film’s later sections. A sequence of incredible images presages the film’s climactic journey through the wormhole, only to leave us guessing at their true significance as the film fades out.

 

 A plague of locusts descends in Days of Heaven.

A plague of locusts descends in Days of Heaven.

 

Days of Heaven (1978)
Gorgeous Terrance Malik movie with Richard Geere and Brooke Adams. The Depression-era landscape is sparse, consisting of sky, corn and the huge house – emblematic of the simple, human story the film reveals. One of the 1970s greatest films.

 

Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s advertising agency background is nowhere more apparent than in this cult sic-fi, featuring Harrison Ford as a futuristic P.I. and a unforgettable turn by Rutger Haur as the android he is sent to destroy. 1940’s noir is everywhere here, but with the dial turned up to 11 on the style setting, from Rachel’s enormous fur coat to the art deco pillars in the Tyrell Corporation HQ. A beautiful film.

 

Movies at the speed of light in Koyaanisqatsi

Movies at the speed of light in Koyaanisqatsi

 

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Using state-of-the-art (for the time) tricks such as slow and fast motion and time lapse photography, Geoffrey Reggio’s film contrasts the timeless beauty of Monument Valley with the dizzying pace of modern life. Shot to a hypnotic Philip Glass soundtrack, it became one of the most iconic pieces of film ever, copied and imitated countless times.

 

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)
Although not appreciated fully on release, Alan Parker’s extended music video of the Pink Floyd concept album features a rather lifeless Bob Geldoff as rock star Pink, a man on the cusp of a complete mental breakdown. But it’s the wonderful Gerald Scarff cartoons interspersing the live action footage that steal the show. Marching Hammers, a demonic Judge shaped like something rather indescribable, and a Hammer-headed schoolmaster pushing his pupils though a meat grinder are images that have passed into public consciousness. An underrated film that is well worth revisiting.

 

What Dreams May Come (1998)
Robin Williams stars in this tale of a man who finds himself stranded in the afterlife following the death of his children and his wife’s nervous breakdown. Not a comedy, you might think. But this movie contains so many emotions that watching it can be an exhausting experience. The film also contains an unforgettable rendition of the hereafter, where whatever you dream becomes reality, and Heaven resembles something out of a Renaissance work of art. A rare example of a modern movie that uses gorgeous colour to its full potential.

 

What-Dreams-May-Come-4

Robin Williams looks out over a heavenly vista in What Dreams May Come.

 

Marie Antoinette (2006)
I’ve long been a fan of Sofia Coppola’s movies ever since seeing the very stylish Virgin Suicides. Although the plot here is minimal, with Kirstin Dunst’s titular ruler having fun a lot before the Revolution arrives on her doorstep, the photography captures a kind of childish innocence and a love of nature and beauty. It’s a pleasure to watch the images unfold in cinema verite fashion, showing us a childish monarch who was simply divorced from reality.

What do you think? Do you agree? If not, be sure to let me know! Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed this selection of some of the most beautiful films ever made!

The Dreaded Coverage (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Today’s topic is about one of the most dreaded things a write can encounter: professional feedback, otherwise known as coverage. How to use and deal with feedback is one of the most important skills for a writer. As a screenwriter, that goes double.

WHAT IS COVERAGE?

Coverage is obtained when a writer submits his or her screenplay to an industry professional for written feedback. The professional does not undertake to produce the script, but instead provides a written report listing its strengths and weaknesses.

The difference between professional coverage and feedback from other people, such as the writers in your writers’ group (you do have a writer’s group, right?) is that you pay for the former. But the principles about how to deal with feedback are the same whether you pay or not.

HOW TO GET COVERAGE

There are many ways to get coverage. Websites and screenwriting gurus abound offering consultancy services ranging from around $50 upwards. The sky is the limit. I have seen consultants ask for thousands of dollars. The pros and cons of these services may depend on where you are as a writer, and I won’t go into whether they are worth the fee here.

You can also approach your peers – other writers. I would not suggest using friends and family unless they are also writers.  Your mother will always say your latest torture horror opus is “lovely, dear”. Likewise, friends may not wish to offend you. Those who are not writers may simply lack the skills needed to analyse a script or to tell you whether it is marketable or not. So always go with someone with experience of writing, editing or script reading.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into what coverage means to a writer:

 

Signs of when it's time to move on. (via Bluecat)

Signs that it’s time to move on.

STANDARD COVERAGE FORMAT FOR SCREENPLAYS

In the film industry, coverage consists of 2-3 pages of synopsis, followed by (usually) 2-3 pages of actual analysis, sometimes followed by a score card. The “meat” of coverage is the 2-3 page analysis. The score card illustrates at a glance the strengths and weaknesses of your work according to that script reader.

What is the purpose of the synopsis, you ask? I submitted my script to get an analysis, not to have my own story told back to me! I’ve been swindled!

Well, it’s tempting to consider the fist 2-3 pages as filler and ignore it. But another way to look at it is to consider that your story may not have translated itself into someone else’s head the way you imagined it in your own.

Writing is the art and craft of transferring thoughts from your own head into someone else’s. It is a kind of telepathy. Whether the other person “gets” your scene or not, or has a different impression of what just happened in your story, can be a sign that you were not successful in getting them to imagine everything as you did.

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH COVERAGE

Whenever a writer receives feedback, whether verbal or written, the initial reaction may well be to clench your teeth, dig your nails into the arms of your chair, then launch into a tirade about “idiots not getting it” or accusing the reader of skipping important parts that explained everything.

But remember, as a writer your job is to communicate. Just as the customer is king in the restaurant industry, in the writing world the reader is king. If the reader doesn’t get  what you want them to get, you have only yourself to blame.

Another reaction is panic. Panic at the amount of work that needs doing. Despair at the insurmountable cliff one faces. Did you spend enough time on your script to begin with? Most writers write around ten drafts of a script and at least two drafts of a novel before even showing it to anyone.  Now another rewrite looms. How will you ever get the work done?

Trust me, it’s something everyone dreads.

The way I deal with this is as follows:

Read the feedback all the way through, from start to finish.

Do nothing.

Let it percolate. Don’t be temped to dash off a hasty e-mail cursing the reader for his or her stupidity. If you’re in a writer’s group or face-to-face situation, take the comments with good grace and make a note of them. You will be glad you did. Giving feedback is an art in itself (that’s for another time). Some people are better at it than others. The other person may only wish to help as much as possible. They may think that by being ultra-critical they are only strengthening the material.

Let the dust settle.

After about a week of nursing your feelings by overindulging on cappuccino or another beverage of your choice go back to the feedback. Read it again.

Now that your feelings are out of the way, doesn’t it make more sense? You may even be inspired as you read and gain ideas about how to improve the script. How did you miss that plot point? And of course that character wouldn’t do that!

Maybe the reader knows something after all.

Read it again.

This time, break it down into the things that don’t work. Also make a note of the things the reader liked. Don’t change these. These are your story’s strengths.

I always copy the feedback into another document, then edit it down so that I just have the reader’s criticisms  bullet-pointed in a list.

Still looks like an awful lot of wok, doesn’t it?

Here’s a secret tip.

Do the easy stuff first!

Did you use the wrong word somewhere? Commit a typo? Attribute dialogue to the wrong character. Go and change that sucker now. Each time you do, remove that point from your document.

Feels good, right?

You’re making progress!

NOW FOR THE REAL WORK

At this point, go back over your shortened document. Now separate the points out into things like “STORY”, “CHARACTER”,  and “DIALOGUE”.

I now go through the script one time for each of these things. Take another pass for story problems, then another for character and dialogue etc. I recommend Paul Chitlik’s excellent book “Rewrite” for a structured approach. If you already did this, now’s the time to do it again.

By taking a structured, methodical approach to addressing feedback, you can make the process of rewriting much less painful.

If you find yourself unwilling to throw out a cherished scene or piece of dialogue, simply save another version of your novel or screenplay file. You can always go back to it. And you may find that without the psychological crutch of having it there you’ll find a much better way to write that scene or show that character’s journey.

Feedback is painful. It’s painful because we writers like to believe that what’s on the page is a little bit of our soul. And rejection hurts. But that’s not how it is. Rare is the script that cannot be improved, even Oscar-winning screenplays. Henry James, the great American novelist, used to return to his stories and tinker with them ad infinitum.

By taking time to let your wounded pride recover, you can approach feedback with a clear head. By breaking it down into small tasks, you can make rewriting seem less daunting. If you do these things, receiving feedback may become less like a chore.

As always, if you think I’ve missed anything, or disagree with me, let me know. I welcome the feedback!

Happy (re)writing!

 

POSTSCRIPT:

There will come a time when you cannot rewrite any more. Recognising this is just as important as knowing the script needs improvement. When you reach this stage, don’t delay. Get it out there! Form a marketing plan and execute it. Don’t let someone else beat you to the punch. This has happened to me several times. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone sell your idea to a studio when your script is sitting on a shelf waiting to be marketed!

 

 

The only guide to writing a logline you’ll ever need – Part Three!

Welcome to the third and final part of a series of posts about how to write a logline. Whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, a logline is an important marketing tool. But with a little practice, anyone can create the perfect logline

Let’s go over what we’ve learned so far (and if you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to read parts One and Two of this guide):

What is a logline?

A logline is a one or two sentence pitch for your story. 

What is a logline not?

A logline is not a tagline or a teaser. It summarizes the essential elements of the story so that someone can see at a glance what the story is about and whether it is marketable.

What does a logline contain?

A good logline contains as many of the following as possible:

A great TITLE. The GENRE. A HOOK with IRONY. The HERO. The CATALYST. The CHALLENGE the Hero must face. The Hero’s JOURNEY. The ARENA.

Last time we covered what constitutes as great title, how to signpost your genre, what is a Hook, and the importance of a central Hero.

Now for the difficult part!

CATALYST

The next ingredient in our perfect logline recipe is the CATALYST.

In Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT, the catalyst is referred to as the incident that sets the story in motion.

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s not necessary to reveal all three, but the story must begin somewhere. This is the Catalyst. This moment usually occurs about 10 to 12 minutes into the film. For instance, the catalyst in “Star Wars”, the catalyst is Luke Skywalker discovering the secret tapes held by R2D2. It is this incident which sets the story in motion, as Luke then begins his journey to join the Rebellion. So the Catalyst is Luke joining the Rebellion.

Here is what I’ve noticed: most loglines fail because they are too VAGUE. Authors don’t want to give up the main plot points of their story. Tey want to generate enthusiasm and excitement by not giving the game away.

That is a mistake.

The excitement is in the writing. Not the logline. The logline is a selling tool.  Remember when I said it’s not a Teaser or a Trailer? People need a logline to see if the script is their kind of thing. You don’t have to generate the same amount of page-turning excitement that is in your script. Just focus on getting the essentials down.

For example, here’s my own unproduced “Demophobia” script logline again:

A man with a phobia of people must search a crime-infested city for his missing girlfriend, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population.

Okay. We have a hero. We also have Irony. But what’s the catalyst? His girlfriend is missing. This may be the thing that kicks off the story. But it’s weak. She’s already missing when the story starts? A weak catalyst indicates a weak structure.

I revised this and came up with the following:

When his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, a man with a phobia of people searches for her in a crime-infested city, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity that controls the homeless population.

It’s not quite “Liar Liar”, but it’s at least a little better. We know that the catalyst is when his girlfriend goes missing. We also get more of a sense of the genre. The drugs and the mysterious entity indicate this may be science-fiction or horror.

CHALLENGE

Again, most weak loglines omit this. You can’t afford to dance around this issue, as it is the main conflict in your screenplay. It is the struggle the hero faces.

For instance, in “The Poseidon Adventure” the challenge is that the ship is sinking.

Here’s a logline for the movie “Predator”:

“A team of commandos on a mission in the Central American jungle find themselves stalked by an invisible alien hunter.”

How’s that for a challenge?

If your logline doesn’t have a central conflict, chances are your story is weak. This may be because the hero doesn’t have a strong enough GOAL. A lot of scripts and novels have a hero who wanders around without taking charge and pushing the action forward.

So how’s my “Demophobia” logline shaping up?

When his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, a man with a phobia of people searches a crime-infested city for her, only to find that a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population is out to stop him.

Hmm. It has a challenge and conflict. It’s not terrible.  It also has something else going for it:

THE HERO’S JOURNEY.

A movie sets up a promise to the audience. Sometimes this is inherent in the GENRE. Sometimes it’s obvious in the hero’s FLAW.

Audiences are smart these days. They watch a lot of movies. If you set up a hero with a huge flaw (for instance, that he’s a compulsive liar) the audience expects that by the end of the movie he’s going to learn that lying is sometimes bad. You can imply a lot, so you don’t necessarily need to spell this one out.

Improve your logline by hinting at the hero’s TRANSFORMATION – the inner journey he goes on. Here’s where you can even use your logline top improve your script – you can tailor the challenges to suit the FLAW.

For instance, to use my own example of “Demophobia”, the hero has a phobia of people. But he’s forced to go out of his comfort zone into a city and come into conflict with the entire homeless population.  Chances are that by the end of this ordeal he’ll either be a basket case or he’ll have shaken off his phobia off people.

By now you may have realized that the Hero’s Journey stems from the Challenge which forces him to overcome his Flaw.

FLAW + CHALLENGE = HERO’S JOURNEY

For instance, at the end of “Liar Liar”, the challenges that lying attorney Jim Carrey will face are going to show him how he can win the day by being truthful. That is his Hero’s Journey.

ARENA

Sometimes a story can grab a producer’s attention if it involves a setting, group, society, place, or occupation we’ve never seen before. “Top Gun”, for instance, is set in the exciting world of the  USAF’s flight school.

You can also tweak the arena to better suit your story.

To use my “Demophobia” example again, the city is a place full of people – exactly the opposite of where someone with a phobia of crowds would want to hang out. I may have overdone it with having a “crime-infested” city. Sure, cities have crime.  But this seems a little irrelevant to the rest of the logline. But I’ll stick with it for now as it conveys the kind of  intense experience he’s going to face when he sets foot in there.

BONUS POINTS – ANTAGONIST

Sometimes you can add a little spice to your logline if you have an exceptionally cool villain. For instance, the invisible alien hunter in “Predator”. Or how about the great white shark in “Jaws”? A character is only as good as he opponent she is facing, so if you have an unkillable cyborg from the future, you may also want to mention it here. Remember, the aim of the logline is to SELL. If you have something UNIQUE in your story, whatever it is, don’t omit it.

So to wrap things up, here’s our all-singing, all-dancing logline formula:

HERO + IRONY + CATAYST + (FLAW + CHALLENGE = HERO’S JOURNEY) + ARENA (+ ANTAGONIST) = SALE!

 

NOW SIMPLIFY…

If your logline contains all these elements, chances are it’s still not ready for the world.

Why? Because it’s probably too complicated.

It can be very hard to distill 110 pages into one or two sentences, especially if you’re emotionally invested in the story. This is why I recommend doing nothing.

Nothing?

Yes.

Nothing.

Let it sit. Give yourself time to drift away from the story and forget about it. Come back with a fresh vision. Once you are objective, you are in a better place to examine whether or not the logline conveys everything you want it to convey.

For instance, in my logline, do we really need so many adjectives? Do we need the homeless people? Sure, they are a major part of the script. But we’re trying to boil the story down to its  bare essence.

Another thing to remember is that you can go too far in paring things down. You have to give the reader the bare concept, but with enough specifics so that it doesn’t become just another Tagline or Teaser.

This takes time. But the more time you put into your marketing materials the better your chances of success. Remember, you only have ONE CHANCE to make a good impression. That industry pro will not take a second look at the same logline. So make that first time count.

And finally…

Here’s the latest version of my own logline for “Demophobia”:

After his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, an artist with a phobia of people searches the city for her, only to find that a mysterious entity that can leap from body to body is out to stop him at all costs. 

 

What do you think?

(Let me know if you think I’ve left something out!)

 

…ONE LAST WORD

By now you are probably sick to death of loglines.

Good. You are now less likely to send it out before it’s polished to diamond hardness. Put the script in a drawer for a week, then come back and take another look at that logline.

It’s amazing what a different time makes, isn’t it?

You should now know what makes up a successful logline. However, your logline is only as strong as your story. If your logline is weak, it may be that your story is weak. In that case, use your logline to improve your story.

One last thing to bear in mind, is that nobody is perfect. Some of the above loglines lack some elements. “Predator” lacks a hero with a journey. Arnie at the start of the film is Arnie at the end of the film. “The Poseidon Adventure” lacks a central hero, but makes up for it by having a terrific arena and unique challenges.

The point is, you can make up for deficiencies in one aspect by having something else that is truly great. So don’t get all paranoid about loglines to the point where you’re too paralyzed to write. Just ask yourself if your logline contains enough of the above elements to hook whoever it is you’re pitching to.

I hope this guide improves your loglines. And don’t forget, above all else, have fun!