Shakin’ things up so much it registers on the Richter Scale

richter scale
Brace yourself

I recently took part in a group conversation with some other writers, and naturally, the topic came around to “So what else are you working on?” I always enjoy this sort of thing. So many great ideas out there.

When it was my turn, I mentioned some of what’s been occupying my time, which included the Christmas-themed mystery-comedy.

“A Christmas mystery-comedy? What’s that about?”

I launched into my 30-second elevator pitch. “LA Confidential with an all-elf cast.” The seedy underbelly of the world of Santa’s workshop. Guns. Sassy dames. Tough-talking gangsters. Intrigue. Double-crossings. The whole gin-soaked ball of wax.

While most thought it sounded like a lot of fun, one person looked absolutely horrified.

“Oh no!” they exclaimed. “My kids and I love Christmas. It’s supposed to be sweet and wonderful! I can’t believe you’d want to write something like that.” (All that was missing was them sprawled on a fainting couch, claiming to have the vapors while frantically fanning themselves.)

How could I not want to write this? Sweet and wonderful doesn’t make for good storytelling. I love this kind of story, and think it would make a great script.

This person makes it sound like trying something new is a bad idea because it messes with the comfort of the familiar. Yet one of the most common tenets is “Familiar, but different.” A story you’ve seen before, but told in an entirely new way. It’s what we should all work towards.

Everybody’s looking for something truly original and unique. Why in the world would you want to write something that doesn’t offer up anything new?

Every script you write is a golden opportunity to push your creativity to the limit so you really catch ’em off-guard. You know the story you want to tell, but it’s on you to truly surprise your reader/audience. Take things in an entirely different direction. They may think they know what’s coming, but you know better and look forward to how they’re going to react.

No matter what genre your story falls into, there will be certain expectations that come with it. The challenge of every writer is to not just meet those expectations, but toss them out the window and offer up a totally new and unexpected way of telling that story. Some people may not like it, but it’s most likely they’re in the minority, and therefore not your target audience.

Think about it. What kind of script are you more likely to take notice of and remember? One that goes for new and original, or one that plays it safe with the tried, true and predictable?

I know which one I’d pick, and will be waiting over by the window for your answer.

Scriptshadow Success Stories – part 2

image courtesy of Springfield Punx
image via Springfield Punx (http://springfieldpunx.blogspot.com)
As one of the multitude of screenwriters working on establishing a career doing exactly that, I’m always exploring different potential avenues to get that first break.

In recent years, the website Scriptshadow (and its moderator Carson Reeves) has offered writers the chance to submit their script for review and feedback. While most are sent back to their keyboards with suggestions of potential fixes for the next draft, once in a while a script garners approval, hopefully leading to continuing success for the writer.

Today’s spotlight is an interview with two of four writers who fall into the latter category: Matthew Ballen, whose script placed in the site’s recent Top 10 Amateur Scripts EVER, and Louise Ransil, whose script was a semifinalist in the 2013 Tracking Board Launchpad competition and was recently profiled in the LA Times (see below).

1. What’s the title and logline of your script?

Matthew Ballen (MB): FATTIESWhen a lonely masochistic chubby chaser is abducted by two fat lesbian serial killers, it’s the best thing that ever happened to him.

Louise Ransil (LR): MARLOWEBased on a True Story:  African American P.I. Sam Marlowe shows novice writer Raymond Chandler the realities of detective work, juggling gangsters, corrupt politicians and movie star Jean Harlow to find out who’s burning farms along the Arroyo Seco Canyon.

2. What did Carson think of it?

MB: Carson said he couldn’t put FATTIES down and that it was really memorable. I made a lot of unusual choices, and I think this clicked with Carson because he sees a lot of scripts that in his opinion play it too safe.

LR: Carson’s reaction was mixed. He was completely honest, saying the noir genre wasn’t in his wheelhouse. He seemed to enjoy the dialogue and elements of style, but was put off by the dense and complicated plotting. He suggested I streamline the plot.

3. Did you find any of the reader comments useful?

MB: Carson thinks FATTIES may be one of the most polarizing projects he’s had on the site. My favorite reader was probably the guy who said “It’s stuff like this that makes me question the fate of Western Civilization.” I found that strangely flattering. Fortunately, a lot of readers liked it though.

LR: Reader reaction was fairly positive. Carson has a very knowledgeable reader base.  Some commented on how the script’s style and structure fit classic noir. There was discussion on whether the genre was relevant to current audiences. I found the comments useful, and overall reactions reflected those I’ve gotten elsewhere.

4. What’s happened with the script since it appeared on Scriptshadow?

MB: The review couldn’t have come at a better time. I was up for my first major re-writing assignment, and the producer and director who hired me each saw the SS review on their own. I should clarify that I already had a relationship with these people, but I didn’t have any produced credits and they were taking a big chance on me. My Scriptshadow attention made everything feel a little safer for them.

I’ve since done a deep polish on FATTIES, and it’s attracted some nice attention from a couple of producers, but nothing concrete yet. I’ll probably wind up directing it myself when my writing gigs slow down, but I’m still interested in finding a home for it if something cool comes up.

LR: Since my script appeared in Scriptshadow, it was featured in a Front Page L.A. Times article. This created some buzz for it, so I’m now shopping it around.

5. What’s going on with your writing career now?

MB: I’m currently writing a screenplay adaptation for veteran Academy Award-winning producer Arthur Cohn. The project’s a complex period drama, almost the polar opposite of FATTIES, though I think unexpected humor and a certain humanity to the characters might be the bridge between them.

LR: I’m working on other scripts now.

6. How can somebody get in touch with you to inquire about this or other scripts of yours?

MB: If anyone wants to reach me about my projects, rewriting, script doctoring, or watching their pets when they’re away, I can be reached at ballen.matthew@gmail.com.

LR: *editor’s note – Louise has opted to not include her contact information.

7. Is submitting a script to Scriptshadow something you would recommend?

MB: Absolutely! I think Amateur Friday is one of the best ways to get attention and feedback on an amateur script.

LR: I definitely recommend Scriptshadow. It’s good exposure and a balanced critique.

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

MB: Fresh strawberry pie from a farmer’s market in June. Oh, and every other kind of pie.

LR: Pecan.