Damn you, Seth MacFarlane

Let us sincerely hope the sun has not set just yet
Let us sincerely hope the sun has not set just yet

If ever there was a need for a man in a white hat to ride in and save the day, now would be a good time.

First THE LONE RANGER is the mega-bomb of 2013, followed by the much-heralded crash and burn this weekend of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.

Mea culpa – I’ve not seen MILLION, and based on what I’ve read, have no real desire to do so. It doesn’t bode well when a lot of the reviews generate more laughs than the trailer.

The western just can’t catch a break. Every once in a while you get something incredible like TRUE GRIT, 3:10 TO YUMA or DJANGO UNCHAINED. Jeez, even RANGO had a little redeeming value. Films like these come along and hope grows in our hearts, but then we get dreck like JONAH HEX or COWBOYS & ALIENS, and back to movie jail goes the western.

I had no real hopes for Mr. MacFarlane’s latest, but at least he was attempting to do some kind of western. Granted, it was trying to be this generation’s BLAZING SADDLES, but apparently failing miserably.

This goes beyond another nail in the coffin. At this point the coffin’s already in the ground with a few shovelfuls of dirt on it.

As a writer offering up a totally kickass western spec, my hopes for success seem to diminish just a little bit more with this kind of news.

I can imagine every potential recipient recoiling in fear. “A western? Eek!” followed by the frantic pressing of the ‘delete’ key.

Contacting a friend repped at a high-profile agency, I asked if anybody there might be open to reading it.

“I wrote a western, and they won’t sell it,” was the reply. “They don’t believe there’s a market for them after THE LONE RANGER.”

Well, sure. Because every western is going to be an overpriced, convoluted bloated crapfest.  It doesn’t help that a lot of them actually have been exactly that.

Why have so many recent westerns been bombs? Wish I knew.

Skimming the credits of some of the great westerns of the past shows that the people who made them had a real understanding and appreciation of the genre – John Ford, Howard Hawks, Clint Eastwood, just to name a few. And it shows in the finished product.

Hopefully somebody else will give it another go in the near future, sooner rather than later, and know how to do it right.

Did I mention I’ve got a totally kickass spec?

Let’s keep things simple, shall we?

This series was anything but easy to follow
Talk about confusing. This series was anything but easy to follow

A nice writing sprint for the monster spec outline resulted in getting to the page 45 plot point, which was great. But what it made it especially satisfying was realizing how to get there in the equivalent of a short, straight line.

No overly complicated story details. No sudden heading off in a totally different direction. Just THIS leading right into THAT, doing exactly what was intended.

One of the most important parts of presenting a story is that everything you need to know has been properly set up, and that it all flows smoothly from one scene to the next.

While you’re still in the plotting-everything-out stage, ask yourself “Is this easy to follow?” A lot of writers will defend their material as such, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

This thing is practically a part of you. You’ve labored over it for what feels like forever, and you know the story inside and out.

We don’t, which means there’s a good chance someone reading it for the first time might not pick up on everything, which isn’t our fault.

Maybe you’ve thrown too much information at us, or just have too much going on that it’s hard to keep track of everything.

It happens, but it’s not the crisis you think it is. Don’t see it as laboring your way through yet another rewrite; it’s actually another chance to make your script better.

Think streamlined.

Strive to avoid unwanted bloat and confusion by constantly checking and re-checking that your story elements make sense, fit where they should and play an important part in telling the story.

Lo, the cowboy ponders his fate

Guns + horses + good story = winning combo

Ah, air travel. When it works in your favor, it’s a very pleasant experience.

When it doesn’t…well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I had a pen, some paper, an outline to work on and an abundant supply of spare time.

I worked my way through the first act of my western-adventure, making changes and setting up setups where applicable. I still like how this is coming together. All that work fine-tuning the previous script is really paying off for this one.

But there’s one thing still nagging at me. Some significantly high-profile westerns are headed our way: Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED at Christmas, Verbinski/Rossio/Elliot’s THE LONE RANGER next summer and Chan Wook-Park’s THE BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE sometime next year (in theory). All very different takes on the genre, and no reason why none of them won’t be successful.

So while I plug away at my story, the angst that plagues every writer kicks in: is it still worth the time and effort to do it?

In the end, there’s only one definitive answer:  Of course it is.

This is a story I’m very enthusiastic and passionate about, so to not write it would simply be a big mistake. It’s got familiar elements but based on an original idea to make it fresh and exciting.

And if those three films are successful, that could potentially create a demand for more scripts of that nature.

Which is where mine comes in.

All the more reason to hunker down, dive in and make sure this thing is done right.

What, again?

There wolf, kemosabe

I try to come up with original ideas for my scripts. Maybe something entirely new, or at least slightly different from something else.  Example – how many scripts have you seen about a Jewish cook in a Chinese restaurant? See?

A few days ago, it was reported that THE LONE RANGER had been scrapped due to a bloated budget, not to mention a ludicrous storyline involving werewolves(?!) and that it would focus more on Tonto.  I don’t have time to go into why all of these are WRONG to begin with, but I just found out that the new draft is going to feature three major sequences involving TRAINS.

Hmm.  A Western where a whole lot of the action takes place on trains. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? (not to slight the efforts of this guy either)

Apparently Mssrs Rossio and Elliott are tapping into my mind and extracting the ideas.

Yes, I know there are only so many ideas floating around out there, but this isn’t the first time there’s been a weird connection between me and them.

A few years ago, I came up with what I thought was an original idea  story about zombie pirates terrorizing a coastal town.  Just as I’m finishing up my initial outline, I read that Disney’s tentpole release for the following summer is PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (the first one).  I sally forth and get a draft done. By now, their movie has come out and is a huge smash. Knowing there will be a deluge of similar scripts, I change my villains from pirates to cowboys.  I crank out a draft, create a clever query letter campaign, but no interest.  That script is in a virtual filing cabinet now, waiting to be retrieved and rewritten at some later date.

Once I’m done with my DREAMSHIP rewrite, I’ll get to work on LUCY, even though it may now be an even harder uphill climb.  But I still like the story, and think it would make for an impressive script.

And just think, maybe someday in the future, you’ll catch the latest hit from Rossio & Elliott and be able to say “I bet that was Paul’s idea first.” And chances are you could be right.  Especially if it’s THE 3 STOOGES: UNDERCOVER G-MEN!.  Then all bets are off.