November 29, 2009

Victoria Wisdom – How to Get Your Script Read

With a name like Wisdom, how could I not sign up for a session with her?  Her middle name may very well be Passion, or Motivation, or Energy – she spoke with much of each while living up to her surname.

To sum up her class in a blog entry would be impossible, so I’ll do my best Chris Berman impression and give a few highlights.

Learn the rules so you know how to break them – Know Hollywood statistics – Know who the up-and-comers are – Know your competition – Most common genres, in order, are action, comedy, thriller, and drama – 50% of audience is under the age of 24 – In a meeting, you have 15 seconds to capture the attention of an executive – Don’t query (heard this many times at the Expo) – Execs will read e-mail, but you have 3-5 seconds to capture their attention

Ms. Wisdom wasn’t shy in lecturing her crowded classroom.  When most of us were unable to name the all-time Australian Academy Award winning movie, Somersault, we were given an earful.  Really?  Is it imperative that we know something so trivial?  I’m going to have to defer to Ms. Wisdom and agree that knowing this industry inside and out will offer a distinct advantage.

It goes back to the premise of this entire blog – education.  The more ammo in the magazine, the better equipped one will be for this battle to enter the well defended Hollywood fortress.  It’s funny how many people embark on this journey assuming it’s an easy ride.

Did I say funny?  I meant sad.

November 24, 2009

Pilar Alessandra – You Had Me at Page One

Along with Creative Screenwriting’s weekly interview podcast, Pilar Alessandra’s On the Page podcast is an essential listen for any screenwriter.  If you have iTunes, subscribe to both.  Now.

Ms. Alessandra taught all day Friday.  Because of scheduling I I was only able to take her You Had Me at Page One session which was, for me, the weekend’s most interactive engagement.  Using examples from popular screenplays including The Bourne Identity, written by the masterful Tony Gilroy, and The Hangover, penned by hot hands Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, Ms. Alessandra invoked thoughtful discussions on the importance of a remarkable first page of one’s screenplay.

As a former studio reader, Ms. Alessandra emphasizes the importance of hooking the reader as early as possible, forcing the reader to turn through the remaining 89-119 pages.  Readers take home large stacks of screenplays (metaphorically speaking as pdf files are now replacing hard copies) and are looking for reasons to not like each one.  It’s much easier for them to pass on a script than to hand it up to an executive.  Consequently, many scripts get tossed after only the first few pages have been skimmed.

Page one of a screenplay must invoke emotion in the reader – fear, anger, sadness, happiness, whatever – something that will provoke the reader to turn the page.  There isn’t time for elaborate character description, flowery location setup, or frivolous scene direction.  Save that for your novel.

November 17, 2009

Talent Managers Panel featuring Philippa Burgess, Christopher Pratt, and Andy Corren

“Queries don’t work.” – Philippa Burgess, Christopher Pratt, and Andy Corren

Earlier this year I made a concentrated effort to fully research and query specific agents and managers.  Personalizing my queries, I reasoned, would more effectively prove my worth as a client.  My indiscretionary efforts are explained in this blog entry from March.

I’ve read from multiple sources recently, and Ms. Burgess, Mr. Pratt, and Mr. Corren confirm, that query letters simply do not work for securing literary representation.  I had suspected as much even before making my Spring push of query letters, but I reasoned that pitching myself as a multi-hyphenate and tailoring each pitch specifically to the intended recipient would increase my chances.  It very well may have, but only in the most miniscule degree.

Each manager in this panel at the 2009 Screenwriting Expo noted that exceptions exist for every statistic, but they recommended strategies other than querying, including networking, screenplay competitions, or self-producing.  I feel good about my current tract of networking and self-producing, and I am considering the competition route despite the steep cost of entering.

Ms. Burgess, who spent three years at ICM before starting her own company, stressed the importance of creating content, specifically blogs, DVDs, webisodes, and news articles.  Check, check, check, and check.  I’m doing all that.  If I build it, they will come – right?  According to the managers on this panel, yes.

November 12, 2009

Michael Hauge – Sell Your Story in 60 Seconds

I’ve read Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell and listened to his CD lecture Screenwriting for Hollywood.  His and Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s 2 Journeys is a DVD I’ve been slowly working my way through over the last year or so – it’s not that it’s terribly long, it’s just a bit prosaic for my ADHD mind.  Mr. Hauge doesn’t go for style points in presentation, but he offers a lot of useful information.

His lecture, Sell Your Story in 60 Seconds, based on the book of nearly the same title, was the second session I attended at the 2009 Screenwriting Expo.  It fell on Friday morning, two days before I was scheduled to offer pitches at the pitch fest.  Maybe the class helped – maybe it didn’t.  It certainly didn’t hurt.

Mr. Hauge reminded us all that we should have one goal, and one goal only, when pitching – to convince someone to read our screenplay.  The greatest pitch in the world won’t do anything for an awful concept.  Conversely, the worst pitch in the world could still work if the concept is brilliant.  Once again, everything comes down to having a story worth telling.

Mr. Hauge developed a list of 8-steps to pitching.  Without his permission, I hesitate to include the steps here, but I found them all useful, albeit a bit obvious to an intuitive mind.  That said, the most obvious of suggestions are oftentimes the most overlooked.

Now, the one caveat to all the teaching Mr. Hauge puts out through his books, DVDs, and seminars is that he hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever sold a screenplay himself.  That fact doesn’t discount his claims – after all, I’ve only optioned a screenplay and produced one of my own, yet I’m ‘teaching’ through this blog – but it does cause one to step back and consider the source.  Like any research, the learning one seeks in screenwriting should be filtered by the student from a variety of teachers.  Mr. Hauge certainly belongs on the list of screenwriting teachers for the diligent screenwriting student.  I, on the hand, don’t belong on that list, which is why I’m trying to point in the direction of the teachers I’ve enjoyed along the way. :)

November 8, 2009

George Escobar – The New Christian Film Movement

“Movies have become more influential than the church.” – George Barna

How can one ninety minute seminar be equally inspiring and disparaging at the same time?  George Escobar’s was the first session I attended at the 2009 Screenwriting Expo and I came away with mixed emotions.

Mr. Escobar spoke of Sherwood Pictures’ Fireproof and Facing the Giants as the gold-standard in Christian entertainment.  Financially speaking, he’s absolutely right – Fireproof alone raked in over $30 million theatrically against a reported budget of $500,000 – but from a creative slant both movies fall far short of excellence.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the messages of both movies, but the execution is painfully amateurish.

I’m optimistic about the upcoming movie, One Good Man, produced by Mr. Escobar’s Christian production company, Advent Film Group.  Mr. Escobar was quick to separate his new film’s production quality from the Sherwood efforts.  And he did so in a humble, non-incriminating manner.

However, Mr. Escobar also claimed to be unable to produce a Christian-themed movie that could compete with blockbusters like Transformers or The Dark Knight.  “I’m not talented enough yet,” was his claim.  Maybe by earthly standards he is correct, but even if he isn’t talented enough, there are many talented individuals out there, Christian or otherwise, that could turn mediocre into outstanding.

I hear the argument already.  When so-called industry experts are brought in, the Christian message is compromised.  I agree with Mr. Escobar’s assessment that Hollywood adapts a world-view instead of the Christian Godly-view.  That’s why it is imperative that we Christians work our way into leadership positions within the industry so the Godly-view can prevail while Hollywood quality standards are upheld.  Is this a paradox?  I certainly don’t think so.

While I don’t aspire to make Christian movies, I do aspire to be a Christian who makes movies.  I have a Christian screenplay sitting on my shelf, but before I do anything with it, I need to secularize it a bit.  Preaching to the choir is not my mission, nor is it my strength.  Fireproof and Facing the Giants may have their choir audience, but I’d rather reach the crowd outside the church walls.

Advent Film Group looks like a wonderful organization poised to groom Christians to fill prominent creative positions in Hollywood.  I just hope the groomed don’t turn out to be Sherwood Pictures clones content to make below average movies with above average messages.  Judging by Mr. Escobar’s desires, I’m optimistic that Christian movies will one day turn a corner and be good enough to compete with the summer blockbusters.