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  • Don’t Heigl Yourself

    March 27th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    I’ll admit it. I love Grey’s Anatomy. Have from the first episode. I even stuck in there for those couple of crappy seasons (much like I did with ER).  And sometimes, since I have a home office, I watch the repeats of Grey’s on Lifetime at 1pm. Yup, I said it. Don’t judge.

    And you know what thought constantly reverberates while watching the older episodes?

    Poor Katherine Heigl.

    Katherine Heigl was Jennifer Lawrence before there was a Jennifer Lawrence. She was womanly, curvy, bubbly and beautiful, doe-eyed, quirky and smart, a strong actress who put craft before looks, and she was imminently likable. She was poised to be the next big thing. America’s Sweetheart with a slight edge – just how we like ‘em.

    The next big TV breakout star that would cross over into film much like predecessors Jennifer Anniston, George Clooney, Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, etc.

    And at first, she played her cards perfectly. Her agents knew how to make her a star. She stayed quiet for a couple years, focusing on her TV work and building her sweet but sexy public persona. She won the Emmy in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress. And then while still on Grey’s, she filmed her breakout film role in Knocked Up, an R-rated comedy that connected with her target demographic but also made her seem cooler than her Grey’s character. And it was a huge hit.

    She followed that up with 27 Dresses, a more down the middle but funny and relatable romcom hit which grossed over $100M. She proved she could open a movie and was now the next big thing. She was on top of the world…right?

    Funny thing happens when you’re on top of the world. There’s only one way left to go.

    It all started with some public rants criticizing her co-stars and the writing staff of the show that won her an Emmy and made her a star. She angered her bosses and the people who put words in her mouth every week and so they turned on her, made her character an unlikable psychotic shrew with brain cancer who broke up marriages and then they wrote her off the show. She started being labeled as “difficult,” which is the only label in Hollywood you can’t shake.

    You can be a drug addict, a whore, a mental case or a talentless hack…but the one thing you can’t be is DIFFICULT. Diva behavior only works until your first failure. And then you’re just a bitch no one wants to work with. And guess what happened?

    Killers, Life as We Know It, One for the Money, and The Big Wedding. Each film a bigger flop than the last. And suddenly, not only was sweet Katie Heigl difficult, but she was box office Kryptonite.

    She tried playing it tough, she tried playing it sweet, she tried making up with Shonda Rhimes in the press. She even adopted an Asian baby.  But none of it worked.  Now, she’s starring in a TV movie and a commercial for a sleep aid.

    And you know who is responsible for this? Her mother. Or should I say, “Momager.”

    Notoriously known throughout Hollywood as being not only a horrible person (and business person) to deal with, but also an awful arbiter of taste, Katherine’s mother Nancy Heigl is the worst kind of parent. The kind who wants all the credit and thinks she knows best in every situation. And instead of listening to her agents or the rest of her team, Katherine fired them all, stuck by her mom, and made her a producing partner. In short, she Heigl’d herself.

    And it’s unfortunate because if you go back to the first 4 seasons of Grey’s, you will see a woman who deserved to be a big star and by all accounts should still be one.

    This doesn’t JUST go for actors, but here are some tips on how to make sure you never Heigl yourself:

    • You are your own brand.  First impressions matter big time. But you’re only as good (and as liked) as your last impression.
    • Never bite the hand that feeds you even if you see a bigger hand waiting with food.
    • Never burn a bridge you don’t know for sure you can rebuild – or that can be rebuilt without you.
    • Your mother should be your MOTHER. Ask her questions, take her suggestions, and then tell her to Fuck Off and listen to the professionals who do this for a living. The only successful Momager is Kris Jenner…and do you really wanna be a Kardashian?
    • Build buzz for your career in positive ways. Be endearing, quirky, and funny.  It’s okay to stick your foot in your mouth, as long as you do it in an adorable way.
    • Strike when the iron is hot, but don’t go too outside your comfort zone/demographic on your first project. Whatever your first hit movie role is, you’re going to have to play in that genre for a couple of years so get used to it and don’t badmouth it. But each role should expand your demographic slightly.
    • After you’ve had 2 or 3 modest to major successes, it’s time to branch out and do something against type to show just how much range you have. A dark indie, an action franchise, host SNL, etc.
    • Keep your fucking mouth shut in the press about any topics not related to whatever you’re promoting. Unless you’re Sean Penn or George Clooney, no one gives a shit what you think about foreign politics.
    • Your PR person is the most important asset you have. If she disagrees with your mother, fire your mother.
    • Surround yourself with people who have better taste than you do.
    • Be nice. Be cordial. Be self-deprecating without seeming too self-conscious. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn the crew’s names. Respect the writer.
    • Make it seem like you actually enjoy it and are grateful. We can tell if you’re not.
    • Never get bored. Always be learning. Always be improving.

     

  • What Elements Make for a Good Dramatic Screenplay?

    January 8th, 2010

    Some say comedy is hard. And they’re right. But in my opinion it’s not as hard as crafting a good, successful, engrossing drama. Why? Well, even the dumbest of comedic gags or basest of jokes, will inevitably make someone laugh and be entertained. But a good drama has to do so much more than that. There’s a reason why almost 50% of the Oscar Winning Best Pictures in the last 80 years have been dramas.

     

    There is something powerful about a story that just wraps around you and sucks you in, making you forget your own problems and forces you to care about those of an often fictional character or at least someone to whom you have no personal connection. There’s something powerful about a story that can reduce your father to tears – or an audience of fathers. There’s something timeless about a good story that can make you think, reflect, feel, and react emotionally. And this is what a good dramatic screenplay should do.

     

    So how do you achieve that type of reaction? Well, it’s not easy.  But there are some keys to crafting a good dramatic screenplay. Let’s look at some examples of Oscar Nominated (or winning) dramas and see if there are any trends you notice. Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Titanic, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, Saving Private Ryan, Mystic River, A Few Good Men, Crash, Shawshank Redemption, The Queen, Apollo 13, Dead Man Walking, The Insider, Traffic, Slumdog Millionaire, etc.

     

    What do these movies have in common? There are three different trends and categories I’ve found.  First, there are true stories. Often the most dramatic stories are the ones that have actually happened or are based on actual events/people. The world is full of drama. However, the stories that movies are made about have something extra. They have broad appeal and national recognition, perhaps even historical significance. There’s something commercial about them, something that connects instead of detracts. The writer will take an event (or person or story or societal issue) and find an interesting and commercial hook they can explore to create a new angle on the story and those involved.  Some true stories expose something about people or an event or society as a whole that is unexpected, intriguing or brings something to light that has never been seen in that visual way before. From the above list, Titanic, Schindler’s List, The Queen, Apollo 13, Traffic and The Insider would all qualify under this trend.

     

    The second trend is epics. Oscar loves the epic and executives love big projects that feel like a whole new world is being created. Having a sweeping feeling means you are swept away by the story to a different place. Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, The English Patient, Braveheart, Elizabeth, Cold Mountain, etc. These are all sweeping epics. To be an epic, a script must have that sweeping feel to it, it almost always takes place in a different time period, it must be big budget, have action, romance, drama, numerous or at least large locations, a good number of characters (though only 2 or three strong leads), etc. Now, if you’re a first time writer, do yourself a favor and don’t write an epic. It will not sell and it will not do you any good as a first and only writing sample. Save it for after you’ve made your first sale.

     

    The third and final trend is that great dramatic stories start with great characters. Forrest Gump, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River, A Few Good Men, Crash, Dead Man Walking, Milk, The Wrestler, etc. It was the character – and the portrayal of that character through brilliant acting – that brings out the true power of the story and makes it connect to an audience. The story of Slumdog Millionaire was a universal, tried and true, rags to riches love story but without the setting (which was the most important character) and those little kids that the audience just fell for, that story wouldn’t have won anything.

     

    If your drama doesn’t have a juicy, complex, emotional, heart-wrenching, personal, intelligent, connectable role for an actor – it’s dead in the water.  A good dramatic screenplay has characters people can relate to and ones that come off as genuine – like you can understand exactly why they are doing what they are doing or feeling what they are feeling, etc. Same with dialogue – in a good drama, the dialogue is slightly heightened but it feels authentic – like it’s exactly what we would say in that same situation (though perhaps more verbose and intelligent – it is a movie after all). And as a side note, don’t be afraid to inject some comedy into your dramatic scenes. Except for Schindlers List, every single drama listed above has more than one moment of levity.

     

    However, there is one thing that every good drama needs no matter what the story is. It’s more than a trend – it’s the mandatory ingredient – CONFLICT. Drama is based on conflict. And not just any conflict, but one that is powerful, relatable, and complex enough to propel a story forward and help develop characters. The story has to be constantly progressing and increasingly more involved as dramas are the most likely genre to get stale or boring. So many ideas for dramas just aren’t BIG enough, so they feel slight on the page. If there is no tension, no conflict, no build to something powerful, then your script is BORING. I can’t tell you how many scripts I read where the writer thinks there is conflict, but alas, there isn’t nearly enough for a feature. There needs to be an immediate tangible conflict, a personal aka internal conflict, an inter-personal conflict AND an overarching conflict. And your story should bring all of these together in interesting and commercial ways. If you only have ONE of these, you don’t have a good dramatic screenplay.

     

    Now, recently dramas have been on the decline. Why? Because everyone has drama in their real life, so it’s not what they want to see on the screen. However, movies like “Precious” will do well because it actually makes most people’s drama seem not so bad. Audiences either want to be completely entertained or made to think their life doesn’t suck as badly as other people’s. And if there was only ONE drama produced per year, you could bet it would still be nominated. So, search for the conflict, the story or the character that inspires you, grabs you and affects you – and if you can’t find one, make one up. And keep writing!

     

    (Article was originally published on Storylink and can also be found at http://www.storylink.com/article/333)

     

     

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