The appeal of appealing to a younger demographic

kids
Multiple generations, engaged and enraptured. Fine by me.

During a recent phone conversation with another writer, I’d mentioned having wrapped up work on the pulp sci-fi spec.

“What’s it about?” they asked. I proceeded to give them my 10-second elevator pitch, plus the “THIS meets THAT” combo.

“Huh,” was the response. “It sounds cool, but it also sounds like it would be a kids’ movie.”

I suppose that’s one way to look at it. My preference is “a rollercoaster ride of a story, fun for anybody from 8 to 88”. That’s always been my approach when I set out to spin a ripping yarn.

Was I supposed to view their comment as some kind of insult? As if there’s something negative or shameful about writing material that appeals to kids? Because that hasn’t worked at all for Disney or Pixar.

PIxar especially has a reputation for producing films that appeal to all ages. There’s been a lot written about the immense amount of time they spend on making sure the story is rock-solid. One of the most-read articles for screenwriting is based on part of their process, and those don’t just apply to animation; they’re for ALL screenwriting.

Let me also throw a couple of “kids movies” out there. You might have heard of them.

Star Wars. Harry Potter.

One’s been around for 40 years, with no sign of letting up, while the other just celebrated 20 years of entertaining readers and moviegoers.

On the surface, both are solid, simplistic stories about the fight of good versus evil. But is that all they are? Heavens no! There’s universal appeal, engaging characters who grow and change, themes being explored, conflict like you wouldn’t believe – all told through a filter of imagination. Don’t let the presence of lightsabers, magic wands, or animated, talking animals distract you from what’s really going on.

And let’s be honest. Both of those series have done more than okay at the box office.

Not too shabby for “kids movies”.

Now, I’m not saying any of my scripts are in the same arena as those, but a good story is a good story, no matter who its target audience is. And if it appeals to a younger generation as well as my own, what’s wrong with that?

And you know what else works with kids movies? Kids grow up, and eventually have kids of their own. What do they watch? The movies the parents enjoyed as kids.

Who wouldn’t want to write something that leaves a lasting impression on a young mind, and then see them pass their love of that story to later generations?

For me, that’s what it all comes down to – writing a script that tells a fun and exciting story that anybody could enjoy. And if that includes kids, that’s fine by me.

A bulletin board to believe in

bulletin board 3
Some great stuff on here

I’m a big believer in promoting the projects of my fellow creative types, and like to spread the word when I can. Today is no exception, with all of the listings being well worth your time and attention.

-Author/screenwriter Brian Fitzpatrick wants everybody to know about his new science fiction novel MECHCRAFT, which he describes as “THE MATRIX meets HARRY POTTER”. It’s currently available as an e-book, but if the number of preorders hits the next target level, it’ll be published as a hard copy, complete with Brian’s autograph (and who doesn’t love owning a book signed by the author?). An excellent addition to any reading list.

-Writer/blogger Henry Sheppard recently had to take a break from writing due to undergoing treatment for his continuing battle with leukemia. This required more than a few visits to the hospital, the events of which inspired Henry to chronicle the comedic aspects of his experiences into book form. The result – his new book Haematemesis: How One Man Overcame a Fear of Things Medic, now available on Amazon. Henry also wants everybody to know his leukemia is currently in remission.

-Filmmaker/animator Scott Storm has a crowdfunding campaign underway for his animated short CUSTODIAN. This is the second campaign for this project after some unexpected problems involving a sizable contribution earlier this year. But Scott remains undeterred and has redoubled his efforts to get this short made! Based on the brief clips Scott has made available, it looks great. Donate if you can! Especially if you’re a fan of animation.

-Between now and July 1st, for every order of his NOTES service that script consultant/blog interviewee Danny Manus receives, he’ll donate $25 to a special crowdfunding project that’s been set up to help the Orlando shooting victims and their families. Get your script in shape and help out a worthy cause, all at no extra cost!

Got a project of your own you’d like to have listed on a future bulletin board post? Drop me a line

Ask a Mega-franchise-experienced* Script Consultant!

Phil Clarke
*Jedi, Hogwarts, & MI-6, if you need points of reference

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Phil Clarke.

Phil Clarke is a UK-based script consultant and screenwriter with close to twenty years service to cinema. After years working on such features as Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, The Beach and two of the biggest box-office franchises: Star Wars and Harry Potter, he turned to writing – both for the screen and the page. His screenplays have spent time with production companies both in the UK and Hollywood, including a James Bond ‘scriptment’ considered for the twentieth entry in the franchise. As a script consultant for over a decade, his clients have won or placed highly at major script competitions, had their projects optioned, while others have gone on to be produced, the best débuting at Cannes.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well written?

The last thing of note was on British TV called The Honourable Woman written by the fantastic Hugo Blick and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Not sure if you’ve had it yet in the States. Well worth checking out – also Blick’s The Shadow Line.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I started reading screenplays as work following my years working on the sets of movies like Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, Star Wars and Harry Potter. For example, on the latter I was Chris Columbus’ on-set personal assistant.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Absolutely. But you do need to be willing to be taught. Many aspiring screenwriters seem too keen to find a shortcut and bypass the learning side.

4. What are the components of a good script?

Tough to answer succinctly in a Q&A like this, but a good script tends to be well structured, have a well-executed and compelling premise along with engaging, relatable protagonists.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Generally speaking, I see too many new writers wanting to rush through the process. Consequently, they submit their work too early when several rewrites would have immeasurably improved the project. More specifically, I see poor grammar and spelling, inadequate formatting, poorly defined characters with unclear goals and a lack of conflict in the scenes and in the story as a whole.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Personally, my heart always sinks when I see a script open with a voice-over narration. It’s often a sign that the entire script will be uninspiring and derivative. While it’s a way to convey a lot in a small amount of time, most writers don’t use it in the right way.
 Dream sequences and flashbacks more often than not annoy because of the way they’re usually handled. Cutting back unnecessarily to explain or overload with exposition certainly grates.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

It’s hard to limit it to just three, but I would say:

1) know your story inside out and the reason for your story

2) above all else, make your story entertaining

3) never stop trying to improve your writing. Continue to hone your craft, and never think you’re the finished article.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

Yes, of course. I would be most disenchanted with my job if I hadn’t. But these stick-on, guaranteed ‘recommend’ reads are rare. As for the loglines, I’m afraid I am unable to give you one.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

It depends on the contest. Some are beneficial, others – not so much. Make sure to research which ones offer you the most for your time and money. If they can guarantee your script will be read by those who can help get your script sold then they’re definitely worth it as that’s what all writers are aiming for.

10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

People can find me all over the internet. I’m on Twitter (@philmscribe), Stage32.com and LinkedIn. My website is www.philmscribe.com, or check out my IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0164947/. Alternatively, they can reach me directly at: philmscribe@live.co.uk.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

I also love my pie. Anything from Key Lime to Raspberry Crumble. I’m also partial to a quality Tarte Tatin.

Isn’t a rock a hard place to begin with?

Gotta pick one, but which one?
Gotta pick one, but which one?

Hard choices. That’s what it comes down to for your protagonist.

Someone in my old writing group put it very succinctly: each scene should force the protagonist so they have no choice but to go with the option that makes things harder for them.

If things were easy for your protagonist and everything went right for them, it wouldn’t be much of a story, would it?  We’d be bored silly.

It all stems from the necessary key word: conflict. Something must be opposing them reaching their goal.

This doesn’t mean it’s someone or something physically blocking them, although that is one option. It could be something out of nature, like a great white shark, a hurricane or a killer virus, or something from the grand scheme of the universe, like time, fear or silence.

One of the great things about conflict is there are countless ways to present it. It comes in all forms, but it really boils down to something in the scene (as well as the overall story) preventing your protagonist from moving things forward.

Taking it one step further, not only do you have to make sure they do, but they have to be the one doing it. Anything else is a cheat, and totally negates their development as a character.  Imagine if Dumbledore said, “Here’s a step-by-step list of what you have to do, Harry.” The mentor figure is there to guide the protagonist down the right path, not take the path for them.

The protagonist has to endure all of these conflicts in order to not only accomplish their goal, but grow or change from what they were when we first met them.

So go ahead and put ’em through the ringer. It’s the way it must be.

-I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Henry Sheppard, aka Adelaide Screenwriter. Check it out here.

Time won’t let me

>Insert time pun here<

I may have overcome my opening pages dilemma. I thought things through, figured out what I needed to show, and took it from there. It’s different than what it was before, and I think a little stronger this time around.

I’ve been working a split shift this week (4:30-9am, then 3-6pm), so my available writing time has been short. As you can imagine, there just hasn’t been much time to work on my own stuff.  Sure, this will push back my target end date, but that’s just the way it is.

On that note, I read this earlier today.

I paid particular interest to his comment that he set about writing eight hours a day, seven days a week as he could manage.

Wow.  I wish I had that kind of time available to write, but I don’t.  I don’t know if he ever got out of the house or spent all his off-the-job-time writing.  I can’t do that. Not because I don’t want to, but I have other stuff that needs to get done.

I really hope this doesn’t come across as sounding whiny or jealous. I may be a little jealous of his success, but not in a “why this guy and not me?” way; more of a “that’s great; hope that’s me someday” way.

I wish I could get more writing done each day, but for now, I work with my schedule and just do the best I can.

-V and I saw HARRY POTTER PT 2 last night. It was fun, but don’t feel like I need to go out of my way to see it again.  Maybe the next time it’s on TV. I’m also feeling a little burned out by the whole series. I read the books, which I really hope V will be motivated to actually read herself someday, and we own the first 6 films, which have been watched many, many times.

V grabbed my arm tightly a few times during the more intense parts, but she enjoyed it.

It was hard not to think about JK Rowling and how she came up with all of this. Really impressive. I’m almost tempted to skim through some of the later books again.

Almost.