RSS icon Email icon Home icon
 
LinkedIn Twitter Facebook

  • The Tenets of Tentpole Movies

    July 15th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    It’s summertime at the box office, which means big effects, big budgets, and even bigger stakes for the studios. Because it’s tentpole movie season.

    You’ve probably heard the terms four-quadrant and tentpole movie, but what do they mean exactly? Should you be writing one? And what makes them work?

    A four-quadrant movie is one that will attract all four of the general quadrants of movie goers – male, female, old and young (or over 35 and under 35 more specifically).

    A tentpole movie is called such for two reasons; One, because everyone can fit under the tent – it attracts all four quadrants. And two, because it’s these huge money makers that basically fund and allow all their other, smaller movies to be made throughout the year. It’s the big flagship movies, franchises, remakes, sequels, and blockbusters that bring in a billion+ dollars that give the studios the ability to take chances on other projects.

    And when a tentpole fails, the whole tent comes caving in and everyone inside goes running for safer grounds… aka other studios.

    These days, not every tentpole movie has to be four-quadrant, especially if you’re writing a comedy. Look at Hangover 3 and the upcoming movies The Heat and This is The End.   But Hangover of course is a three-quel and a proven entity, and the other two star some of Hollywood’s biggest and most popular stars, so they were no brainers.  Almost every other big blockbuster film this summer, however, is rated PG-13 to maximize possible viewership. If animation, it needs to be PG.

    So what makes for a successful tentpole film? How do you know it’s going to hit it big?

    Well, on a business/studio level it’s really all about tracking and data and marketing and promotion and publicity and word of mouth and great reviews and having a great trailer and poster and huge stars making the rounds. It has almost ZERO to do with story.

    But on a story level, there are many things that a great tentpole needs to include or be in order to work.

    1. The SINGLE biggest thing that a tentpole movie must be – is sellable overseas. Doing well domestically is nice frosting on the cake, but studios make their money overseas. If it’s not a story with big visuals (whether it be action, visual effects, scares, etc.) and big name stars (with the exception of animation), it won’t work in other territories. If it isn’t a story with a universal premise and universal themes that EVERYONE can understand and connect with, it won’t work. Aliens, Robots, Vampires, Superheroes – these are universal things.
    2. It must be super high concept and have a visual hook. You need a BIG idea. If you can’t pitch a tentpole project in one sentence and make us see the poster, trailer, what’s new about it, why people will get it, and its opportunity for success – it’s dead in the water.
    3. A Hero and Villain that people will love, and that huge name actors that sell overseas will love to play. Tentpoles cannot work with no-name actors, unless the writers and directors are huge names (like Nolan, Spielberg, Michael Bay, etc.) Don’t believe me? Look at John Carter and Jack the Giant Slayer.
    4. A big tentpole movie requires a larger cast. An ensemble. A team. A group.  There may be one main protagonist, but there are almost always 2-5 OTHER very castable team members on the journey. Transformers, Star Trek, X-Men, The Avengers, Armageddon, etc.  The exception for this is if it’s a solo superhero movie with a titular character we all know and love already like Wolverine, Spider-Man or Iron Man.
    5. Every tentpole movie – in fact EVERY movie – needs an Iconic Image. It’s that one thing – that one moment, scene, visual, etc. – that you will always have in your head when you think of that movie. What is YOUR script’s iconic image?
    6. If you have big action and big effects, make them friggin’ HUGE. Not every movie needs big explosions and VFX to work, but if you’re making a big VFX movie, it needs to have action sequences and moments we’ve never seen before on film.
    7. An already established and proven audience. It’s easier to fund a project when you know there’s at least an already-proven core audience that will go see the project. This is why most tentpole movies these days are based on popular books, comics, graphic novels, remakes, TV shows, video games, sequels, etc. It lessens the risk. And when you’re writing a check for $150 Million dollars, less risk is a good thing.

    Now the big question for you as a screenwriter – should you be writing these movies?

    Well, you should definitely NOT write something you don’t own the rights to. That means, do not adapt a bok series just because you love it. Do not write a sequel to a movie, or a reunion movie for a TV show, just because you love it and have an idea. This is a horrible waste of time.

    Studios like proven track records – which is why they don’t buy huge epic blockbusters from new writers. They just don’t. Unless that writer has an amazing agent at a major agency that can package the hell out of the project and there’s already an A-List producer attached, studios will not buy tentpole big budget movies from new writers. So, should you write it? Sure, if you want. But just know that you’re going to have to write something ELSE that gets made first before anyone will think about making your tentpole movie. But if you follow and include most of the points above in your script, at least it will have a better shot when the time comes.

  • The #1 Reason NOT to Be a Screenwriter

    June 25th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    There are a million reasons to want to try your hand at screenwriting; as therapy, as a creative outlet, because it’s been a dream of yours since childhood, because you just love telling stories in a visual way, because you want to leave your stamp on pop culture or create your legacy, etc.  Or maybe you just want to be famous and get your picture taken in US Weekly standing next to Kristen Stewart looking like she just ate a sour candy.

    But there is one reason that should NEVER come into play – Money.

    It’s time for some tough love, No Bull style. Lately, I’ve had a few clients who told me they NEED to sell their script and quick because they are having financial issues. They’re broke, they are getting evicted, they lost their jobs, they can’t find a new job, they need to pay their mortgage, their children are going to college, etc.

    Let me say this as clearly as humanly possible: If you need to sell a script in order to pay your mortgage…you’re going to be homeless very soon!

    Money is the LAST reason to go into screenwriting because chances are it’s going to take you YEARS to make any. And even if you do (by some miracle) sell or option your first script, it’s not going to be for much money, if any. We’re talking a few thousand dollars – certainly not enough to quit your day job or send a kid to school. Even if you got super-duper lucky and get paid WGA minimum for your script, it’s still less than you’d make as a first year school teacher in a bad neighborhood.

    And getting the movie made is a whole other process that can take anywhere from 2-10 years, so I hope you aren’t counting on those residual checks to pay your rent.

    If you are having financial difficulties, please – do ANYTHING else! You might as well get a job at Starbucks because you will make more money, get full benefits, and if you’re working at a Starbucks in Los Angeles – you’ll probably get to meet more celebrities than you will as a screenwriter anyway.

    Screenwriting is something you want to do as a career because you’re so passionate about it, you just can’t picture yourself doing anything else day after day, year after year and because you LOVE writing – not because you’ve tried everything else and writing is the only thing left and you think anyone can do it.

    Being a professional screenwriter isn’t about writing 100 pages. Anyone can do that. It’s about immersing yourself in the craft of writing and the BUSINESS of film and TV. You have to know what you’re getting into.  Being a professional screenwriter means you don’t just have ONE story to tell that you’d like to see get made one day. It’s about having so many ideas and inspirations and stories that your brain can’t hold them all, so they need to flow out onto paper.

    And if you’ve got tons of ideas but you don’t want to write them – then you’re not a screenwriter – you’re a producer! Ha!

    It’s fine to change careers in life and want to try something new, but screenwriting at a professional level is something that takes YEARS to become proficient at – much like I’m sure whatever your current profession required.

    No one leaves their job as a social worker and says, ‘Ya know what, I need to make more money – so I’m going to be a doctor from now on.’ And then immediately starts working on patients and gets paid a million dollars. So why do you think screenwriting would be any different?

    It takes MANY scripts, many rewrites, many classes, education, etc. Ask any professional screenwriter how many scripts or years it took for them to break in and finally feel like they were good enough, and I GUARANTEE you that none of them will say a number less than THREE.

    To make real money as a screenwriter – and by that, I mean quit your day job money – you need to perfect not just your writing, but your rewriting, your pitching, your selling, your polishing, and your networking skills. And if you think you can do that by reading Save the Cat and downloading Celtx – you’ve got another thought coming.

    It’s incredibly easy to write a script. It’s insanely difficult to write a great script at a professional level. And it’s ten times harder than that to sell it. And ten times harder still to get it produced, released and be successful.

    The competition even between amateur (non-professional) screenwriters increases with every year. Just five years ago, the total number of submissions for the top 4 screenwriting contests was about 15,000. Now it’s over 30,000. The number of consultants out there offering to help has increased from about 50 to over 300. And for a buck, many are ready and willing to pat you on the head and tell you you’re wonderful and talented and are gonna be rich and famous.

    But they’re wrong.

    I’m not saying this to dissuade you from screenwriting – it is a wonderful profession that can be incredibly satisfying, creatively fulfilling and fun. I’m saying this to make sure screenwriting is something you are so passionate about that it’s not your answer to being broke – it’s the thing WORTH being broke for.

  • The Tenants of Tentpole Movies

    June 11th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    It’s summertime at the box office, which means big effects, big budgets, and even bigger stakes for the studios. Because it’s tentpole movie season.

    You’ve probably heard the terms four-quadrant and tentpole movie, but what do they mean exactly? Should you be writing one? And what makes them work?

    A four-quadrant movie is one that will attract all four of the general quadrants of movie goers – male, female, old and young (or over 35 and under 35 more specifically).

    A tentpole movie is called such for two reasons; One, because everyone can fit under the tent – it attracts all four quadrants. And two, because it’s these huge money makers that basically fund and allow all their other, smaller movies to be made throughout the year. It’s the big flagship movies, franchises, remakes, sequels, and blockbusters that bring in a billion+ dollars that give the studios the ability to take chances on other projects.

    And when a tentpole fails, the whole tent comes caving in and everyone inside goes running for safer grounds… aka other studios.

    These days, not every tentpole movie has to be four-quadrant, especially if you’re writing a comedy. Look at Hangover 3 and the upcoming movies The Heat and This is The End.   But Hangover of course is a three-quel and a proven entity, and the other two star some of Hollywood’s biggest and most popular stars, so they were no brainers.  Almost every other big blockbuster film this summer, however, is rated PG-13 to maximize possible viewership. If animation, it needs to be PG.

    So what makes for a successful tentpole film? How do you know it’s going to hit it big?

    Well, on a business/studio level it’s really all about tracking and data and marketing and promotion and publicity and word of mouth and great reviews and having a great trailer and poster and huge stars making the rounds. It has almost ZERO to do with story.

    But on a story level, there are many things that a great tentpole needs to include or be in order to work.

    1. The SINGLE biggest thing that a tentpole movie must be – is sellable overseas. Doing well domestically is nice frosting on the cake, but studios make their money overseas. If it’s not a story with big visuals (whether it be action, visual effects, scares, etc.) and big name stars (with the exception of animation), it won’t work in other territories. If it isn’t a story with a universal premise and universal themes that EVERYONE can understand and connect with, it won’t work. Aliens, Robots, Vampires, Superheroes – these are universal things.
    2. It must be super high concept and have a visual hook. You need a BIG idea. If you can’t pitch a tentpole project in one sentence and make us see the poster, trailer, what’s new about it, why people will get it, and its opportunity for success – it’s dead in the water.
    3. A Hero and Villain that people will love, and that huge name actors that sell overseas will love to play. Tentpoles cannot work with no-name actors, unless the writers and directors are huge names (like Nolan, Spielberg, Michael Bay, etc.) Don’t believe me? Look at John Carter and Jack the Giant Slayer.
    4. A big tentpole movie requires a larger cast. An ensemble. A team. A group.  There may be one main protagonist, but there are almost always 2-5 OTHER very castable team members on the journey. Transformers, Star Trek, X-Men, The Avengers, Armageddon, etc.  The exception for this is if it’s a solo superhero movie with a titular character we all know and love already like Wolverine, Spider-Man or Iron Man.
    5. Every tentpole movie – in fact EVERY movie – needs an Iconic Image. It’s that one thing – that one moment, scene, visual, etc. – that you will always have in your head when you think of that movie. What is YOUR script’s iconic image?
    6. If you have big action and big effects, make them friggin’ HUGE. Not every movie needs big explosions and VFX to work, but if you’re making a big VFX movie, it needs to have action sequences and moments we’ve never seen before on film.
    7. An already established and proven audience. It’s easier to fund a project when you know there’s at least an already-proven core audience that will go see the project. This is why most tentpole movies these days are based on popular books, comics, graphic novels, remakes, TV shows, video games, sequels, etc. It lessens the risk. And when you’re writing a check for $150 Million dollars, less risk is a good thing.

    Now the big question for you as a screenwriter – should you be writing these movies?

    Well, you should definitely NOT write something you don’t own the rights to. That means, do not adapt a book series just because you love it. Do not write a sequel to a movie, or a reunion movie for a TV show, just because you love it and have an idea. This is a horrible waste of time.

    Studios like proven track records – which is why they don’t buy huge epic blockbusters from new writers. They just don’t. Unless that writer has an amazing agent at a major agency that can package the hell out of the project and there’s already an A-List producer attached, studios will not buy tentpole big budget movies from new writers. So, should you write it? Sure, if you want. But just know that you’re going to have to write something ELSE that gets made first before anyone will think about making your tentpole movie. But if you follow and include most of the points above in your script, at least it will have a better shot when the time comes.

  • Close A Door, Open A Window: My Fond Goodbye to BOSI

    May 7th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    All good things come to an end, as they say.

    After just about 4 years and 180 articles, my column at BOSI has officially come to an end. There will be no final article, so I’m posting one here instead.

    It’s been a fantastic run, we’ve covered tons of great topics, I’ve made some wonderful friends, gained hundreds of wonderful clients, and launched numerous programs and classes. And I’ve written over 450 pages worth of material all for you, and all for free!

    I’m not going to go through all the reasons or details as to why the column is ending. Sometimes, it’s just best to appreciate what it was and move on. Though I get pretty chatty when I’m drunk. Haha!

    I want to graciously thank Marvin Acuna and James Lee for inviting me into the BOSI Community and allowing me to post my articles here and for helping to really launch No BullScript four years ago. Their support, friendship and promotion meant so much over the years, and I wish them much success.

    For those who don’t know, I became involved with Marvin after we both were part of a panel at the Screenwriting Conference in Santa Fe in 2009. I had met him briefly before that, but it was after the panel we became friends. He liked what I had to say and invited me to get a drink with him a couple weeks after the event. And as we got shitfaced on a Monday at 4pm in the middle of West Hollywood, he offered me a weekly column in this new endeavor he had started. I needed the promotion and the audience and he needed the content…BOOM. Done.

    It’s been a long, strange, and mostly fun journey since. Marvin has taught me a great deal about the business of show, perhaps the most important lesson being – ‘business is business.’ And you have to protect your brand, your name and your integrity with everything you have. I tend to take everything personal and internalize and analyze – when in the end, there’s always a bottom line to pay attention to.

    Most of all, I want to thank all of YOU! The BOSI Readers and Community. You’ve put No BullScript on the map. You’ve emailed me questions and article topics and great feedback and encouragement when there was an article you loved (or hated). And you’ve made me think much deeper about this business than I ever had before. And I am so thankful to the thousands of you who read what I have to say every week. And I hope to work with each and every one of you!

    In these 180 articles, we’ve discussed almost everything I could think of. But I’ve still got a few more tricks up my sleeve, so I invite ALL of my wonderful BOSI readers to follow me to my new column on ScriptMag. The title of my new column is “Notes From the Margins.” And I’ll be going through all the tips and things you need to know to make your story shine. So you can check that out twice a month (starting this week) on www.scriptmag.com.

    As you’ll notice, Manny Fonseca has also ended his podcast and column on BOSI but he is still doing his podcast and I hope you follow him too.

    It’s unfortunate that things have to end sometimes, but life goes on. And as I always say… Best of Luck and Keep Writing! I know I will.

  • The Biggest Threat to Screenwriters in the Digital Age

    March 26th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    It used to be that a screenwriter’s biggest fear was pitching or sending a script to a producer and them stealing their idea and making a billion dollars without them. But in the new digital, social media age where every week there seems to be a new website that writers can post their scripts on in the hopes of being reviewed, loved and discovered, the biggest threat to screenwriters – is other screenwriters.

    Between Amazon, BlackList, Talentville, Virtual Pitchfest, InkTip, Greenlightmymovie, Triggerstreet, SpecScout and many more – there are a ton of websites that promise (or at least intimate) you will gain access, attention, accolades and success from Hollywood heavyweights by using their sites and posting your scripts or pitches or synopses. And many of them do have great success stories. Some of them are even free. But there’s a downside to posting your script in a forum or on a site where ANYONE – not just Hollywood professionals – can see it.

    Let me preface this article by saying that I don’t have anything against any of the aforementioned sites and I have worked with (and continue to work with) a few of them. I believe the people running all of those sites have the best of intentions and are not doing anything wrong.

    However, this past week, one of my clients (who will remain nameless but I’m sure many of you reading this may know who I’m talking about) had an issue on one of these popular script-posting/review sites. She discovered that there was another project with the same title and basic concept, time period and protagonist posted onto the site months after she had posted hers. Now, it was a TV script and hers was a feature, and after reading both it was clear to me there were notable differences in the stories, writing and focus. But, they were definitely similar. And while it wasn’t a wholly original story, it was original enough – especially the title – to draw some ire from numerous writers.

    After much ado, and numerous emails between the parties (some of them contentious), the situation was looked into by the website and resolved as best as possible considering no one had sold their project yet and no one could actually PROVE anything. Though mark my words – if one of their projects sells, there will be a lawsuit. Which means both their projects are now tainted and if a production company hears there might be a registration claim against a script, they will most likely stay away.

    Writers need to know there is basically no recourse through the site when something like this happens (especially if it’s a FREE site), because most have terms and conditions you have to agree to before you post your material, and any smart site will include a big old paragraph that basically says – “Post at your own risk. It ain’t our fault if your story gets jacked.”  At least, that’s the legal terminology I would use.

    In addition, if you’re posting into Facebook groups, screenwriting forums like the notorious Done Deal Pro or others, many people use screen names, fake names or pseudonyms – so you’d never be able to find out who actually took your idea.

    Let me ask you something – why the hell do you care what a fellow amateur screenwriter living 3000 miles away from you thinks about your screenplay? Do you know what their opinion means? Absolutely nothing! Many of these sites and forums are the blind leading the blind. And in the land of the blind, the one-eyed-man is king.

    Situations like the one I mentioned above seem to be happening on a weekly basis now – and it’s not going to improve until these sites take more control over what’s being posted and have a more in-depth system or screening process or algorithm to compare (or search for) projects. Or until writers realize that posting their script for peer reviews is mostly a waste of time and often opens them up to more harm than good. Everyone is so hell bent on getting feedback from EVERYONE and getting their script in front of as many eyes as possible, that they don’t realize some of the pitfalls of posting their projects or loglines or ideas online.

    And some contests aren’t much better. First and second round judges for many contests out there, are writers. Perhaps they’re writers with a couple options under their belt or a manager or agent, or some credits. But for the most part, it’s out of work writers trying to make some extra money. And the rest of the judges are readers, who get 20 bucks a script. It isn’t until the quarter or semifinal rounds where more major Hollywood professionals get involved in the judging.

    So this leaves burgeoning writers with two very important questions – How do you promote yourself, get read and try to break in while ensuring your ideas won’t be stolen? And are you sabotaging your career if you refuse to post your scripts on these websites or enter contests?

    The answer to the first question is just to be smart and protect yourself and always keep a paper trail! Know when you registered the script, know when you copyrighted it, know when you started writing it, know the first time you pitched it to someone. Know what sites, at what times, your script was posted and keep a log of who has seen it or read it or commented on it. And that goes for your writers groups and friends as well. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned after 10 years in this business, it’s that friendships don’t mean dick when there’s money at stake.

    Read ALL terms and conditions before you post. Try to post on sites where there is more DIRECT access to professionals or where it’s only professionals who can access your projects. Or where YOU can control the access. At least with Virtual Pitchfest, for example, your query letter goes directly to the professional and no one else is able to see it.

    The answer to the latter question I posed, is YES. By choosing NOT to put your script out there at all, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face. You can’t be THAT precious with your idea, because chances are it’s already been done anyway. And if you’re not trying to pitch and sell your idea, then what was the point in writing it? You can’t sit there and complain that you’re not being discovered if you’re not being pro-active about getting your script read. But again, you have to protect yourself.

    Do NOT post your brand new, unregistered idea or logline or synopsis in Facebook groups or on twitter or in ANY screenwriting forum asking for feedback. If you want to know if your idea or project sounds commercial and might be worth pursuing, or you want to brainstorm your story concepts (especially before they are written), then for the love of God – go to someone who isn’t a fellow writer! You’re not selling your project to other writers anyway – you’re selling them to execs, producers and reps!

    I realize I’m a bit biased here, but use a professional! Pay the $50 bucks and use a professional who can give you constructive feedback but will also keep your project confidential and won’t be wondering the whole time if your project and idea sounds better than the ones they are trying to write.

    Pitching to an executive or producer or submitting work to a script consultant or even your own personal writing groups is much safer than posting your story all over the internet. Why? Because the former all rely on their reputations staying intact in order to stay in business. And if someone in your writers group stole your idea – you’d know who they are, where to find them, and exactly how they got it. There would be a clear paper trail.

    Now, the law of averages – and the sheer number of writers and scripts out there – dictates that your idea was probably thought of by someone else, somewhere. Every few months, I get two clients that submit a similar story or concept and they live countries apart and have no connection to each other whatsoever. Even the most random of story ideas, has probably been thought of in some form by someone else. It’s just a coincidence and there’s nothing you can do about it. And just FYI, I do inform my clients when that occurs.

    This happens to professional writers and production companies all the time as well. When I was at my old production company, Clifford Werber Productions, I sold an “Oz” movie to United Artists. We were first out of the gate. But within months there were 4 other Oz projects set up and as you can see…ours didn’t win the race. We developed a revamped Jack and the Beanstalk…oh well. We developed a project called “Family Bond” and the very week we sent it out to the town, another script titled “Family Bonds” (with an S) was also sent around by another producer and the story was eerily similar. And just this month, a consulting client of mine submitted a script with the same concept as one I developed years ago at CWP. It happens all the time because as different as we are, humans all share certain experiences and people write what they know.

    And if you suspect that one of your projects, ideas or scripts has been “stolen” in some way, the best way to handle it – is calmly. Don’t go threatening lawsuits or demanding anything – especially of the sites on which the projects were posted. First, read the other writer’s project to make sure it’s not just a similar title or same broad generic idea. Make sure there are REAL similarities throughout the script. Investigate, do your due diligence, go back thru your paper trail, and contact the writer or the site and try to come up with a resolution that benefits you all. And worst comes to worst, take down your project and just move on to the next one. Because if your script has been posted on a site for 9 months and NO ONE has read it or contacted you about it – it’s not doing you any favors anyway.

    In the 90s, it was snail mail query letters. In the 2000s, it was email queries and pitchfests. In the 2010s, the new norm of breaking in for writers without connections is thru social media and self-promotion thru certain types of websites. And the fact that new writers can more easily connect to big Hollywood players is a great thing. But with these new rules and opportunities, come new threats and problems that writers need to be aware of, and protect themselves. And hopefully now, you’ll be a bit better prepared.

  • The Virtues of a Short Film

    February 27th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    A couple weeks ago, Dov Simens – that guy who teaches a very popular 2-day filmmaking course and cites Tarantino as one of his students – said that “the only thing that making a short film demonstrates is that you’re a 12 year old”. That there’s no point in making a 5-12 minute short film because they don’t sell and everyone these days seem to have one.

    Is he wrong? Sort of.

    Shorts don’t make money, that’s true. Even if your short film is nominated for an Academy Award – you’re still not quitting your day job from the money it brings in, especially if you financed it independently.

    And yes, the boom of handheld technology, iPhone apps, webcams and social media has lead everyone and their mother to think they are the next Chris Nolan. And many of the people creating and posting their “short films” are, in fact, 12 year olds.

    That being said, creating a high quality and well-produced short film is still a strong way to break in. It just takes much more than it used to because of the gluttony of product being created. I have produced two short films with talented directors, consulted on dozens more for clients, and have had a couple of those clients win major short film contests. But were any of their careers suddenly launched by these shorts? Nope.

    Yes, if you are lucky enough to have your short premiere (and win) at Sundance or Toronto, you will score meetings with managers and maybe even producers for your next project. And winning the 48-hour short film contests that are held around the country is great and will teach you all about guerilla filmmaking. But will it pay your rent? Nope.

    Are there people being paid on YouTube for their short content? Sure. In fact, YouTube has 1 million monetization partners. But with nearly 48 hours of content uploaded every MINUTE and 8 YEARS worth of content uploaded every day, that’s 1 million videos making money out of TENS of BILLIONS.  You have a better chance of winning a major screenwriting contest while getting bitten by a rabid squirrel that can dance like Justin Bieber than you do going viral.

    So while I do think that making a short film can be a great calling card and can help you garner some attention, I agree with Mr. Simens that making a career out of making short films is a waste of time. Make one to learn and perfect the process, make a second to show off your talents. If you make more than that, you’re probably wasting your time.

    There is a difference, however, between making short films and making webisodes, which are sought out more often. What could be more lucrative and garner more of a payoff for you and your project might be to create a great webisode series (especially if you’re looking at writing/directing for TV) or a trailer for your feature project as a selling tool. A trailer has to get across a full and complete story just like a short film, but it’s an even better test on whether you know how to bring the most commercial and visual elements of your story out while forcing viewers to connect with a character in 30 seconds. This trailer can also help you raise money on crowd funding websites much more than a short film can.

    Even just looking at the professionally made shorts, there are usually only about 5-10 stand-outs every year that break thru, get major industry attention and land the filmmaker into some impressive offices and meetings with big agencies and producers. But that’s 10 shorts…out of thousands.

    Three years ago, shorts like The Raven, Pixels and Marcell the Shell were all the rage. In 2011, it was the short film Portal and the Dead Island video game commercial. And last year, Ruin and Archetype (both now set up at Fox) broke out huge.  And in case you’re wondering where you can find these tops shorts, there’s a website for that. Much like The Black List surveys the executive’s favorite unproduced scripts of the year, the View Finder List surveys exec’s favorite short films, videos and commercials of the year. The 2012 list can be found here – http://www.viewfinderframes.com/category/viewfinder-list-2012/.

    All that aside, if you do decide to make a short film, there are three important things it needs to accomplish:

    The first is that it must prove you can tell a complete story – beginning, middle and end – in a visual way in a very short period of time.

    The second is that it needs to convey your visual style and that you have a voice as a filmmaker. What is it about your way of storytelling, developing characters, creating a world, visuals, effects, shot selection, writing, editing, transitioning, etc., that makes you stand out and defines why you’re someone people should pay attention to.

    And the third, and sometimes most important, is that however much money you make the short for, it needs to look like it was made for 10 times as much. If your budget is $5,000, it needs to look like a $50,000 short film. If your budget is $50,000, it needs to look like a half million dollar low budget feature film. Producers who look at your short want to see what you can do with the money you are given and they don’t just want to see every cent on the screen – they want to see tons more than that! They want to see what you can make ten grand look like before they will be willing to give you a million.

    So in order to make your sure you’re giving your short its best chances, here are some specific tips to keep in mind –

    Start with a truly tight and complete script and story. It’s not three-act structure per se, but there is a big difference between writing a complete stand-alone story and writing what feels like one random scene taken from a larger story no one can figure out.  It can feel like it could be expanded and explored into a much larger story, but it should be able to stand alone.

    It’s great to be a multi-hyphenate and do everything yourself, but if writing isn’t your strong suit and isn’t what you’re trying to do – then find a real writer (or consultant) to help you.

    Unlike a feature, where you have 5-10 pages to create a world and a tone and genre and character, in a short, you have ONE page. One. That’s it.

    Find a talented crew you trust and who won’t complain about long days and shitty conditions. Stock the craft service tables like you’re at a bar mitzvah. And if you can only hire 3 awesome people, make it your First AD, a Lighting Designer and a Sound Guy. Good lighting and sound designers are worth their weight in gold and a great First AD will keep everyone else in line.

    Don’t hire actors just because they are your neighbors and friends. If they can’t bring the words to life, it doesn’t matter how good the shot is – it will be painful to watch.

    Keep your shorts under 8 minutes – that’s as long as any executive is going to give your project. And keep in mind that it takes a solid minute to roll credits. Don’t waste time with credits at the beginning of your short.

    Write a story with very few locations and very few changes in time of day. If your whole short film can be shot at night, it will be much easier to schedule and keep consistent and you won’t need to have a skip day for your crew to adjust to day shoots.

    Your story should have as few characters as necessary to tell your story and preferably use as few extras as possible, if any.

    If you are shooting outdoors, always check weather reports from multiple sources. Then check them again.

    Always, always, always have a plan and a schedule and a shot list. Know which shots you want, but always, always, always get enough coverage just in case. One of the biggest problems we had on one of the shorts I produced was that the director knew exactly what shots she wanted, but if I didn’t suggest alternatives, she never would have had the coverage we needed.

    Despite what some filmmaking teachers might say, I think everyone should be involved in making a short film at least once. It’s great experience and usually a great deal of fun. But if you’re relying on your short film being the thing that gets you signed by CAA and pays your bills, I hope you have a Plan B.

  • How to Launch Your Career Correctly (And Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Reps are Brilliant)

    February 27th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    Ask any agent worth their salt and they will tell you that there is a right way and a wrong way to start, build, and grow a career in Hollywood. Sometimes it takes a perfect storm of variables to make it happen, sometimes it’s dumb luck and good timing, and sometimes it’s about having a winning strategy and having something special to offer.

    This week, the young, talented and ridiculously beautiful Jennifer Lawrence, 22, won her first Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. And it solidified what I have believed for a couple years now, which is that Lawrence’s reps are some of the best in the business and her rise to stardom and success is EXACTLY the model that should be used not just with actors, but writers and directors as well. Whether you’re a representative or fledgling talent, there’s something very valuable to learn from Jennifer Lawrence’s career.

    Before we get to the actual process of her success, let’s stipulate that the person trying to break in has to actually BE talented and trained. That goes without saying. It also obviously helps that Jennifer Lawrence is model gorgeous! If she wasn’t, would she have the success she’s has? Probably not, at least not in the same way. But good looks doesn’t guarantee you anything in this business – beautiful girls are a dime a dozen in Los Angeles.

    If you have seen Lawrence in interviews or her hilarious Jack Nicholson meeting after the Oscars or have read her quotes on her IMDB page, you know there is much more to her than a pretty face and acting chops. This is a charming, witty, funny, sarcastic, intelligent woman who knows how to handle the media and more importantly – knows how to handle herself and the pressures of Hollywood with humility, humor and honesty.

    I don’t want this to turn into a total love letter to Jennifer Lawrence (those I keep in private), but what makes Jennifer Lawrence difference from many of the other gorgeous actresses in Hollywood is that she has that special THING. That special QUALITY that extends past beauty and makes her relatable and versatile. She has great innate comic timing, but she can do drama or horror or action as well (and has). And one of the reasons her reps are so fantastic is because they recognize how versatile she is and have lined up different types of movies to show off her many different talents. She’s the actress version of Allan Loeb (look him up).

    When describing actresses, you often here the saying “Girls want to be her and guys want to fuck her.” And, yes, those are true with Lawrence. But what she has that doesn’t come along too often in Hollywood, is that both guys AND girls want to get a beer with her and hang out. Why? Because she seems cool and unaffected. The type of girl next door who could kick your ass, chug a beer and then put on a dress and win an Oscar. And that’s what guys love and girls respect.

    There are very few actresses whom you not only want to sleep with, but also want to be their FRIEND. Sandra Bullock, Emma Stone, Cameron Diaz, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Chelsea Handler – they have that quality (in my opinion). It’s that thing that Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Stewart, Nicole Kidman, Katherine Heigl, Megan Fox, and others, still lack. And you can’t fake relatability too long – you either are or you’re not.

    Same with writing – either your stories and characters and conflicts have that THING that just engrosses you and makes you care, or they don’t. And if you try to force it (usually thru exposition and overwriting), it becomes painful and obvious and makes one care even less. There has to be something connectable and relatable about your writing.

    Possibly the most respectable thing about Lawrence, is she is a TRUE movie fan. She throws out quotes and movie references like a 50 year old critic. She’s a fan of what she does – and what other people around her do – and that makes for a great actress, much like it makes for a great writer or director.

    But let’s see beyond the looks, the talent and the likability factor and examine the way she and her reps have positioned her career. Whether you’re an actor, director or screenwriter, the key to breaking in and making it big, is about breaking in the right way at the right time to be able to capitalize on one’s success and become a star.

    Jennifer Lawrence was about 19 when she filmed Winter’s Bone. And if you remember, she wasn’t the only actress to burst out on the scene a couple years ago. Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit, Shailene Woodley from The Descendants, etc. And what have you heard from them in the last year? Not much.

    The problem with breaking into film at 15-17 is that you are too young for most of the good, adult, meaty roles that win awards and get critical acclaim so people will take you seriously. But you’re too old for the tween roles that launch huge followings and make you a teen star. And so if you aren’t at the top of your game at that age, you don’t get the few great roles out there and your career stalls. Jennifer Lawrence happened to be at the tip top.

    Actors (and writers) often feel like if they haven’t landed a starring role (or sold a script) by the age of 19, they will never make it. But it’s the actors who don’t find their big break UNTIL they are adults who are the ones who stick around and have real careers. Olivia Wilde, Emma Stone, Teresa Palmer, Elizabeth Olsen, Rooney Mara, Anna Kendrick, etc. Now look at the actresses who hit it big as young teens – Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Olsen Twins, the High School Musical kids, etc. Sure there are exceptions – Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Saoirse Ronan, Mia Wasikowski (though the last two are Irish & Austrailian, so it’s a bit different) – but sometimes it’s the maturity to know oneself and one’s talent and goals that make one ready to truly break in. And most don’t have that before they’re 20 years old.

    Look at Jennifer’s career in comparison to the other franchise lead and young superstar, Kristen Stewart. She’s not a bad actress, but she was a child actor from a very young age, so by the time she was 18, she was so jaded and cynical about the industry she could barely force a smile when cashing her $10M checks. And people hate her.

    Writers are the same – they try to rush it, try to force it, try to insist that they are ready when they just aren’t mature enough on the page (or in the room). And they try to break in by doing the wrong types of material, and that’s why their career stalls. Or they refuse to pay their dues and work for nothing starting out, which will stall a career before it ever starts.

    Jennifer started as many young actresses do – modeling and doing commercials. She did a few crappy commercials, got a couple small TV roles, and that led to her moving out to LA and finding a part that meant something to her and she fought for it (Winter’s Bone). She didn’t snub her nose at the tiny budget or harsh shooting conditions or the hell she had to go through to nail the role.

    She paid her dues and got discovered the hard way. Of course once Winter’s Bone (and her Oscar nomination) happened, she was snatched up by CAA and then the strategy begins. She did a couple more high-profile indies (The Beaver, Like Crazy), then a mainstream horror movie, got a supporting role in a huge blockbuster to increase her public profile and bankability (X-Men First Class), then landed a franchise lead role of her own with Hunger Games, which they knew would be huge based on the success of the books (and Twilight). And in the middle of Hunger Games madness, she returns to the smaller side of things to do Silver Linings Playbook.

    And now she has an Oscar, a 4-film franchise, plus a larger role in the next X-Men Days of Future Past, and her pick of any movie, director and co-star she wants.

    It’s actually the same type of career trajectory that Halle Berry attempted. She broke in the hard way, doing small roles and TV jobs, then got supporting roles in bigger movies (Last Boy Scout, Flintstones, Executive Decision), then did a smaller passion project that she felt connected to and loved and fought for (Dorothy Dandridge on HBO), which got her critical acclaim and led to her Oscar-Winning feature role in Monster’s Ball. She capitalized on her success with big roles (but not lead) in major blockbusters to increase her public profile and relatability (X-Men, X2, Die Another Day, Swordfish). And then she got what could have been her own major franchise – Catwoman. And that’s where things went sour. When that went horribly awry, she tried to increase her likability by doing a few thriller/horror movies (Gothika, Perfect Stranger, Dark Tide) – all of which bombed. Her upcoming The Call is tracking softly, and she’s had personal issues in the tabloids. So now she’s trying to reboot her career again, returning to big budget projects like the new X-Men. It just goes to show that it’s all about picking the right projects at the right times.

    Writers can actually learn a great deal from this career path.

    –          Learn, train, practice, grow, move to where the jobs are (if necessary).

    –          Pay your dues and take any writing job you can, even if the money sucks.

    –          Write material (or take roles) that bring out and highlight the natural sides to your voice and personalities (all of them). Something that means a great deal to you. I would suggest smaller, commercial projects (thriller, horror, action, comedy) or really unique indies that show off what you can do. Do not write the billion dollar trilogy franchise action movie FIRST.

    –          Get discovered by an agency or manager who thinks you have promise.

    –          Win a couple contests, maybe option your first project for little money, build a bit of buzz and get whatever exposure you can.

    –          Get discovered by a bigger agency who poaches you from first agent and understands your vision for your career and supports it, while always thinking outside the box.

    –          Be versatile and eclectic and get as many logs in the fire as possible, but never veer from doing what speaks to you.

    –          Write bigger, visual, commercial projects that can sell on a larger scale and that can get packaged within the agency and impresses everyone. Hopefully one gets produced.

    –          Get hired on big rewrites and projects that expand your public profile.

    –          Once it’s paid off and you’re in demand, go back to where you started and do a great indie or drama or project that will gain you critical acclaim and awards.

    –          NOW it’s time to write or adapt that big franchise.

    –          And through the whole time, be collaborative, courteous, courageous, humble and witty. Luckily, writers don’t have to be gorgeous. But never forget that you chose this profession because you love it. Those who choose it for other reasons, don’t last too long.

    While sitting at your computer typing up a new idea, you might not think you have anything in common with my future wife, Jennifer Lawrence. But think again. Because breaking in and igniting a successful career is all about talent, timing and tenacity whether you’re an actor, director, or screenwriter. But it’s also about having that X factor and choosing the right projects and the right people to have your back who can see the bigger picture. And always remember, the material comes first.

  • What You Can Learn from the 2012 Black List Scripts

    December 21st, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    This past week, the heavily publicized 2012 Black List was released. 78 scripts made the list this year, and what an eclectic bunch. Much like the last two years where I’ve analyzed the Black List scripts, this year’s crop raises a number of points, questions and lessons for writers…but perhaps the largest lesson this year’s list can teach us is — Hollywood’s just a popularity contest and no one really knows what the fuck they want.

    And just because something’s well-written does not mean it’s sellable.

    For the last 8 years, the Black List has not just been a barometer of talent, but of trends. It’s been a launching pad for careers – of both writers and reps – and it’s been a great way to discover new voices and praise the voices Hollywood already loved. It’s often been a predictor of what projects would be put into production the following year. And sometimes, it’s been a great way for producers to find awesome commercial projects that didn’t sell on the spec market and give them a second chance.

    I still think reading the Black List scripts is a great way to learn how a great voice can make a project stand out and jump off the page – even if it’s not commercial or original. And it may be a strong indicator of what types of projects agents and managers are attracted to.

    If you’d like to see the full list of scripts, click here – http://www.deadline.com/2012/12/black-list-2012-winners/

    This year, however, it feels much more like a popularity contest than ever before because most of the projects on this list would never get made (even if they did sell), and are simply not commercial in any way. And surprisingly, quite a few feel very cliché – though this may be due to their not-so-great loglines (which are created by The Black List).

    A disgraced cop goes after the serial killer who killed his partner; A teen tries to lose his virginity to the girl of his dreams; A man goes to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend to stop her from getting married; Geeky female high school outcasts decide to get revenge on the bully Queen Bee; After being dumped, a guy’s best friend devises a plan to get him laid by as many women as possible.

    These are the cream of the crop? Really? I’m not saying the concepts aren’t brought out in new ways or with great voices – but these concepts have been done a million times before.

    While it is executives and assistants who vote on these scripts, my guess is that these same execs PASSED on the script when it crossed their desk. Sure, they loved the writing and wished they could have gotten them made – but they couldn’t. They couldn’t sell them.  How do I know? Because if they could’ve….they’d be sold.

    Only about 50 of the 78 scripts listed have a producer attached, which is a lower number than previous years. And keep in mind, having a producer attached does not mean the producer will be able to get the project made. It just means it’s in development. Only about 25 of the scripts actually have financing (or companies that finance) behind them.

    The reason this year’s Black List scripts are such a paradox and hard to learn from is because they break all the rules. From formatting to voiceovers to genre to period to types of characters to page counts to rights issues…this year’s scripts broke all the rules.

    But keep in mind, ALL of the writers who made the Black List already have great agents and/or managers behind them and many of the writers have been produced, sold or optioned before.  The writer of the #1 (“Draft Day”) has even won a Pulitzer. So for the most part, these aren’t novice writers. But sometimes, the key to having a voice that screams from the page…is breaking some of the rules.

    The biggest rule broken, however, was subject matter and genre. For the last few years, anyone will tell you that the number one genre that is impossible to sell – is drama! And period dramas? Fuhgedaboutit.

    Yet of the 78 scripts on the list, well over 20 are straight dramas (not including dramedies) and almost 25 are period pieces (not including scripts set in the future).

    Also interesting to note – there are way more male protagonist stories than female on the list, and almost all of the female protagonists are either slutty or total basket-cases or overwhelmed mothers dealing with death. The only two real exceptions are the Hilary Rodham Clinton story “Rodham,” and “The Keeping Room” which is about 3 southern women who defend their home from the Union Army while their husbands are fighting in the Civil War.

    Here’s my full breakdown for those interested –

    –          23 period pieces (non-future)

    –          19 titles that start with ‘THE’

    –          11 True Stories

    –          9 Sci-fi scripts

    –          8 Small-town stories with large personal/emotional stakes

    –          6 Straight comedy or Romcom scripts (not including dramedies or mix-genres)

    –          6 Stories based on well-known real life people

    –          5 Projects based on already existing intellectual property

    –          5 Projects with veterans or soldiers as protagonists

    –          3 Political stories

    –          3 Projects with characters dying of cancer

    –          2 Sports stories (including the #1 script on the list)

    –          2 Handicapped main characters (mentally or physically)

    –          …And a partridge in a pear tree.

    While the Black List has always been – and still is – a great deal about “voice,” it used to ALSO be about scripts that COULD sell and get made, but just haven’t yet. Much of this year’s crop, however, lacks the high concept, pitchable quality of projects of yore.

    If you still don’t believe that The Black List has become a popularity contest that agents, managers and their assistants lobby (heavily) for, think about this –

    72 of the 78 scripts are rep’d by the 6 Major Agencies.

    40 of the scripts (that’s more than half) come from the same 9 management companies.

    Luckily, The Black List is no longer the only barometer of great unmade specs. The last couple years, there has also been The Blood List (for genre films), The Brit List, The Spec Scout Top 10 List and The Hit List, which comes from TheTrackingBoard.com.

    Despite both Spec Scout and Hit List predicting that their top scripts would also land at the top of the Black List…that wasn’t the case. Only 30 of the 84 scripts on the Hit List made the Black List as well, and only 3 of the Top 10 matched. Only 4 of the scripts on the Blood List made the Black List (the only 4 genre scripts that made it). And only 3 of the Spec Scout’s Top 10 scripts even made the Black List at all.

    This would indicate that the voters for Black List are a bit more snobby about their favorite material than those voting for other lists. It’s like the difference between the Nicholls judges and the Page Award judges.  Reading through the other scripts on The Hit List, voters clearly preferred more commercial and genre projects. And there are TWICE as many industry voters for the Hit List as the Black List.

    No matter what list you’re reading, the important part is that you’re reading tons of scripts. Whether they teach you what to do – or what not to do – reading scripts that are getting attention and praise in Hollywood can help improve your story skills and instincts and help you develop your own voice that perhaps will land you at the top of one of these lists next year.

  • 50 Shades of an Amateur Screenwriter

    September 24th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    There are probably hundreds of signs that the writer of that script I’m screaming at is an amateur. But today, I’d like to give a mere 50. Most of these may seem like common sense, yet you’d be amazed at the sheer number of projects plagued with these issues. Some of them may make you worry about your own work. But hey, at least you’ll know for next time and you’ll be one step closer to making sure your work is at the highest of professional standards.

    The following is in NO particular order and covers a broad range of script issues.

    1. Writing CUT TOs, FADE TOs, FADE OUTs, or any other Transitions between every scene.
    2. Telling us instead of Showing us.
    3. Description is in past tense instead of present tense and does not use the active form of the verb. For example, John drives – not John is driving. Danny stands – not is standing. Limit –ING verbs.
    4. Not using pronouns or articles in your sentences. THE room, HIS dog, HER chair. You don’t walk into room – you walk into THE room or A room. I know less words is a good thing, but this is horribly distracting when the reader has to fill in the word.
    5. Having wordy description paragraphs longer than 4 lines on a page without a line break.
    6. Not CAPITALIZING your characters names the first time we meet them in your description. Also, capitalizing characters names every time they are seen or mentioned (Not the case in TV).
    7. Capitalizing every single noun and/or verb in your description.
    8. Not having a new scene heading for every new location or writing things in your scene heading other than the location, time of day and relation to the previous scene.
    9. Your description tells us exactly what your characters are thinking or are about to discuss in dialogue, or tells us backstory the audience cannot see.
    10. The script is written in Microsoft Word, Notepad or Celtx. I know Celtx is free – but no one working in Hollywood uses it or even knows what it is.
    11. Not knowing the difference between a Montage and a Series of Shots. A Montage condenses numerous scenes, locations and the passage of time while progressing plot and character arcs. A series of shots is a visual style to show many different actions or specific visuals all from one scene or a short time span.
    12. Having Camera Direction in your description (“we see”, “shot of”, “camera pans” etc)
    13. Writing parentheses before dialogue on every page explaining the emotion or how the line should be said.
    14. You are not using “Intercut With” when going back and forth between two scenes instead of restating the scene heading each time.
    15. Lengthy location descriptions or too much production design – we don’t care what color the couch is.
    16. Use of Voice Over to tell us things you could express though action and dialogue.
    17. All conversations start with “hello” or “how are you” and scenes end with “goodbye, goodnight or talk to you later.” Or if dialogue is full of conversational niceties – thank you, please, your welcome, etc.
    18. The scenes lack dynamics – no conflict or tension or build or emotion.
    19. Story is missing the meat – there are planning and reflection scenes instead of execution scenes.
    20. The subplots are not tracked or seen for more than 15 pages.
    21. A kitchen sink script where everything is thrown in to make it seem more commercial and original.
    22. Scenes have no emotional goal.
    23. There is a lack of emotional/reflective reactions and moments for characters.
    24. Introducing more than 3 characters in 1 paragraph – each should preferably have their own paragraph so they don’t blend together.
    25. Using incorrect margins on the page – having too much or too little white space around the edges. Also, incorrect font, spacing, or type set.
    26. You use dreams and flashbacks interchangeably. Flashbacks are events that actually happened seen through a character’s POV. Dreams are subconscious and uncontrollable thoughts that happen while sleeping.
    27. Not giving us your main character’s LAST NAMES and AGES when introducing them.
    28. Using music – specific songs and artists – in your scenes or writing a scene to a specific song. What do the Beatles, Bowie, Beach Boys, Bon Jovi and Bon Iver all have in common? Their songs will add MILLIONS to your budget.
    29. Your main character feels like they were born on page 1.
    30. There’s nothing on the line – no STAKES – in the first scene.
    31. It isn’t clear where and when your story takes place.
    32. Your only antagonist is an emotion or a personal demon.
    33. The most commercial moments are not exploited and the dialogue, SFX and VFX don’t POP on the page.
    34. There is no time clock of any kind in your story.
    35. Your subplots and B stories are not resolved or connect to your main storyline.
    36. You are lacking in Set Up, Execution, or Payoff.
    37. Your scenes do not evoke any emotion from the reader.
    38. You don’t know how to use dialogue, actions, settings or set ups to create great smooth transitions between scenes.
    39. Your scene goes on 1-2 lines too long and doesn’t end on the most powerful or interesting moment or dialogue.
    40. You don’t know the difference between VO, OS, and OC or when to use each one.
    41. The dialogue is slight, Q&A, isn’t genuine to the characters or lacks subtext and is all very on the nose.
    42. You think a theme and a message is the same thing.
    43. Your first scene and first 10 pages don’t grab me.
    44. Your protagonist is passive and/or isn’t present in your climax.
    45. You write a comedic scene just to hit one joke or one visual gag.
    46. You think when you finish your 3rd draft, you’re done and it’s ready to be submitted to agents, producers, actors or contests. It’s not.
    47. Your story is not driven by conflict and doesn’t contain an internal, external, mental, physical and emotional conflict.
    48. You think the only difference between you and an A-list screenwriter is an agent.
    49. The first words out of your mouth when you meet someone are “I’ve written this script…”
    50. You think you can break all of these aforementioned rules and mistakes and people will still want to read your script and you’ll still be able to break in because Tarantino did it.

     

  • How to Make Your Scripts “Elevated”

    September 24th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    “We’re looking for an elevated thriller.”

    “I’d like to find an elevated comedy.”

    “All we’re buying are elevated horror scripts.”

    How many times have you heard that?

    “Elevated” is an interesting buzz word you will hear all the time in Hollywood. But what the hell does it mean?

    I believe there are actually a number of ways to create an “elevated” script which I will go through below, but in general, it means there is something more intelligent and complex and involved than most normal stories. It’s not just a down-the-middle, by-the-numbers plot.

    Elevating your script often means that you have combined two genres or hooks to create a more dynamic story than you’d have otherwise. Having one great hook may make your script commercial, but having two great hooks will make your script elevated. Silence of the Lambs, for example, was elevated because it wasn’t just that an FBI Agent had to track down a horrific serial killer – it was that she needed an even worse serial killer to help her.

    Eli Roth’s upcoming film Aftershock is an elevated thriller because not only is it a disaster movie about an earthquake but it’s also a dark thriller because the focus is on an insane asylum and the patients who escape during that earthquake. See how the combination of the two makes the story much more original and…well, elevated.

    Elevated projects are movies that will appeal to larger demographics because of the writer’s new way of approaching the story or subject matter. For example, if Scream had been a straight horror/slasher film, it would not have been as broad or successful as it was due to the great sharp comedy and wit worked into the script. Shaun of the Dead could have been a run of the mill zombie movie, but instead its comedy elevated it to something much more.

    Making something “elevated” means the writer took a basic concept or story and combined it with something really interesting or original to make it completely different. Or they took a basic relationship and added a twist or dynamic to it we’ve never seen.

    And sometimes it’s about the way the story is told or the twist of the story no one is expecting or the visual style set up by the screenwriter.

    For example, if Memento were told linearly, it would be a pretty normal thriller. But because of the backwards way of telling the story, it was much more than that. 500 Days of Summer could have been a regular old romantic comedy but the way the story was told and broken up and structured made it much more than that.

    Lovely Bones was an elevated drama/thriller because of the way it was narrated and how the story started. On page one, it set itself apart. The Sixth Sense could have been a horror movie about ghosts or a drama about death but instead its huge twist and way of storytelling elevated it to one of the most successful movies of all time.

    An elevated horror is usually one where it’s not just a base story about a killer and its victims. There’s something more to it. The Shining is a great example of an elevated horror movie because it’s so psychological and it makes you think. It’s not just a gore-fest, but a character study wrapped in scare. Cabin in the Woods is another great example – it wasn’t just a young adult slasher about kids in a cabin in the woods. There was an intelligence and complexity to the rest of the story that made it much more than that.

    It could be that what elevates your project is the characters themselves or how many protagonists there are. Crash and Love Actually were considered an elevated drama and comedy, respectively, because of their ensemble nature and how the storylines came together. That is not to say that every ensemble movie is elevated. Having more characters does not always mean a better, more original story.

    Perhaps it’s your location that makes your story elevated. Hollywood loves contained thrillers and contained action movies not just because fewer locations means the budget is lower, but because the sign of a great writer is what they can do with 2 characters in 1 room for 90 minutes. That’s why SO many writers break in by writing them. “Contained” is another one of those great Hollywood buzz words, and that’s because if you can do something truly original with that one location and make it something no one has seen before, then you’ve elevated your story and made a small story much bigger. Look at movies like Cube, Buried, Phone Booth and Panic Room. All contained thrillers with high concept hooks and their locations – and how they are used – are what make them elevated and interesting.

    Everyone always asks what Hollywood wants and how to write commercially – well, coming up with elevated concepts and being able to not just SAY that your story is elevated, but prove it – is the answer. I can’t tell you how many writers describe their story as elevated but when I ask them what is elevated about it, they don’t know. They just thought saying the word would help.

    But now that you all know what it means, and some different ways to achieve it, you can go back and look at your stories and see if you’re really creating buzzword-worthy projects.

©2010 No BullScript Consulting - All Rights Reserved     Powered by Discreet