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  • 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.

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