The value of face-to-face time

Coffee makes for a good 3rd part of this equation
Coffee makes for a good 3rd part of this equation

A few weeks ago, I’d read a post on Done Deal Pro from a writer who’d gone to Los Angeles to attend a Writers Guild function, but was now back home in the Bay Area.

Since I’m always looking to expand my network of fellow writers, especially ones that could be considered local, I contacted him and asked if he’d be interested in meeting.

Fortunately, he was. Coffee at the Ferry Building.

Since most of this summer has involved V being at work with me, she and I worked our way from my office to our designated meeting place.

I handed her my phone so she could play video games while Justin Sloan and I sat down to talk.

We exchanged backgrounds and career developments. He was especially intrigued about my results using the Black List.

Unfortunately, Justin had to get back to work so we had to cut things short, but he asked if he could read my script, and I offered to give feedback on his.  He also asked if he could send me some questions for his blog Bay Area Screenwriters. You can read those here, and I’ve added a link to it over on the blogroll.

It was great not only talking about writing, but also discussing the assorted experiences we’ve each had in relation to writing. Contests, writing groups, etc.

This is one of those experiences that can’t be duplicated via an online forum or instant messaging. Having an actual conversation with someone will hopefully be fulfilling for both parties.

So send those emails, set up those coffee chats, get out there and talk to people.

-Movie of the Moment: PACIFIC RIM (2013). What happened? This was supposed to be the big hit of the summer. No such luck. Instead, we got great special effects weighed down with forgettable characters and horrible dialogue. (Can’t people come up with something better than “Let’s do this!”?)

I will give del Toro and Beacham credit for coming up with an original story, but feel bad it was so poorly executed. There was no way this could lived up to all the hype. Scott Pilgrim, anyone?

Some notable disappointments: the Russian and Chinese pilots/robots were treated as throwaway characters, and were dispatched with way too quickly.
-the Australian guy with a huge chip on his shoulder seemed straight out of a studio note. “This guy should be a real asshole, but give him a dog so he’s semi-likeable.”
-the trailers featured most of the robot-monster action, leaving little to surprise us during the actual movie.

-THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984). Hadn’t seen this in years.  Also watched it with V because I thought she might like it – she did. There are elements similar to DREAMSHIP. Not exactly the same, but definitely there.

The story by itself still holds up, even though the rest feels a little clunky, and Robert Preston’s fast-talking Harold Hill-type character always brightens up whatever scene he’s in.

Watching this on an HD screen makes it that much more obvious you’re looking at a film set, and the special effects, cutting-edge at the time, seem quaintly dated.

X + Y = you(r script)

Two individual great things combine to make a new great thing
Two individual great things combine to make a new great thing

Scenario time! You find yourself in the mythical elevator with the even more mythical open-minded Hollywood exec. Their attention is all yours for the next 30 seconds. Your moment to shine is at hand!

You give ’em your honed-to-perfection logline. They react with raised eyebrows, a slight tilt of the head and an intrigued “Hmm.” The fish is nibbling at that hook, but the deal ain’t sealed yet.

“How would you pitch that?” they ask. “What’s your X meets Y?”

In other words, what two movies does your script incorporate elements from while telling a unique and original story?

I’ve read arguments both for and against doing this. Personally, I don’t have anything against doing it, but usually try to avoid it, preferring to let the logline do the selling.

But sometimes you’re going to need those two points of reference to offer up a stronger idea of what somebody can expect from your story.

It’s also important to name films that are well-known, successful or both. Avoid box office flops and the obscure at all costs! There’s also the question of timeliness, but I’ll get into that in a second.

Case in point: The folks at the Tracking Board Launchpad gave each semifinalist script it’s own landing page, featuring a thumbnail sketch of details (logline, genre, contact info, etc.)

Part of what they wanted from the writers was their “X meets Y” pitch.

Since I couldn’t go with the phrase that served as my mantra during the writing process (retro sci-fi steampunk pirates), I thought “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN meets STAR WARS” summed it up nicely.

The response was that this was just “okay”, but the story didn’t seem as reminiscent of STAR WARS. Maybe there was another film that was more similar?

Fortunately for me, K was right there next to me during this exchange and suggested “How about ‘PIRATES meets THE LAST STARFIGHTER?'”

Yeah, that works. Definitely a stronger connection with my script on several levels.

Maybe my only nit to pick is that it’s not the most recent of films. 1984, to be precise. Almost 30 years old(!). But it’s still pretty well-known and is usually mentioned as part of “they don’t make ’em like that anymore”, so 2 points in my favor. If you’ve never seen it, you should really make a point to do so.

(And just to put it in perspective, STAR WARS is over 35 years old, but is probably a little more in the public eye.)

So take a look at your script. Put some thought into what best makes up your “X meets Y”.

That way, the next time someone asks “How would you pitch that?”, you’re ready to go.