Originally, this post was going to be about the multiple changing of protagonists in PSYCHO (which is another great potential future topic), but the more I read about the film and thought about the impact it’s had since being released way back in 1960, it triggered a totally different train of thought.
Every once in a while, when a classic film is brought up in some context or another, the phrase “That could never get made today” will get thrown in. After the recent death of Gene Wilder, his talent was lauded via the mention of several of his most well-known roles. Willy Wonka. The Waco Kid. Victor Frankenstein (“That’s Fronken-steen.”). His performances were vital parts of each film, which no doubt contributed to making them “classics”.
But, as always, it starts with the script. (Incidentally, I don’t think Wilder gets enough credit for co-writing YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.)
Examining the stories being told, each one has something truly unique about it, and then some. The writer (and subsequently the filmmaker) wasn’t afraid to take a chance and try something completely new and different. Sadly, the studios today aren’t as open to it. Better to play it safe then take too big a chance, which is why we’re seeing so many remakes and re-imaginings. Of course, that doesn’t always work out either (e.g. 2015’s PAN, the recent BEN-HUR remake).
While there are always original and innovative scripts floating around, it’s a lot of time, effort and money to make a film. The only recent original film I can think of is SWISS ARMY MAN, which I admit I haven’t seen yet.
Who hasn’t read a “truly original” script or about one getting a lot of attention, but a lot of the time the writer will go on to work on other projects while the script that started the whole thing gathers dust?
The best exception to this that I know of is Travis Beacham’s spec A KILLING ON CARNIVAL ROW, which drew a lot of heat when it sold in 2005, then continued to garner praise while it languished in development for years before ultimately becoming an upcoming series on Amazon – at last check, anyway.
Budgets are getting higher, and the gap continues to grow between microbudget features and mega-budget tentpoles. It’s getting harder for original material to get noticed, let alone something that screams out “NEW!” It also doesn’t help that the chances decrease if the script isn’t based on pre-existing material. This could be why today you’re more likely to see an original film that’s a low-budget independent, probably written by the filmmaker themselves.
Before that, your best bet of seeing something groundbreaking would have been at the hands of established filmmakers, only because they had that kind of leverage (and the budget) to get their projects made. An unknown writer doesn’t have that kind of luxury. All we can hope for is to connect with somebody who likes the script (and our writing) so much that they’re actually excited to help us take things beyond the “Sure, I’ll read it” stage.
That’s our objective as writers: to write something that’s not only compelling and involving, but so eye-openingly original that the reader is compelled to the point that they need to see this as a movie. Doable, but definitely not easy.
Homework time! Part one – find a script you really consider a game-changer for the same genre as yours and give it a read. Can you identify what made it so unique? What really stands out for you? Plot? Story? Characters? A little of everything? Another option is if that script has been produced, then watch the film and follow along with the script. Are they the same? Totally different? Do you think the changes add or take away from the script?
Part two – without blatantly copying the style of that script, work on applying a similar originality to yours. Did reading that script inspire ways for you to make yours really stand out?
Don’t be afraid to take chances. Strive to offer up something we’ve never seen before. The results might surprise you, too.
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The first round of the Nicholl Fellowship competition is complete. The quarterfinalists have been named, as well as those who placed in the top 10, 15 and 20 percent of all entries.
Regrettably, my western fell into the latter-most category. In some ways, that’s not too bad. Obviously not was I was hoping for, but at least worth noting.
It goes without saying that while there may still be hope for the script in the handful of other contests I entered this year, it’s also safe to say I should probably expect similar results.
But here’s the silver lining to all of this. I sent the script out, thinking it was ready. Since then, I’ve received lots of great feedback about how it could be improved – tighten this, work on that, etc. – and more is on the way.
This script was pretty good before. With a little more work, it could be fantastic.
I’ll be dividing my time between that and the rewrite of the mystery-comedy spec, of which I will definitely seek out professional feedback (Lesson learned here – after I think a script is good to go, I’ll spring for 1-2 sets of pro analysis. Definitely worth it.)
The silver lining to all of this: there’s no reason I couldn’t have two scripts ready to go for next year. Three if I really push myself with the pulpy adventure spec, but that might be overreaching.
Movie of the Moment – YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) One of K’s favorites, so we watched it as a family. V liked some of the jokes in the beginning, but her interest waned as it went on.
As for me, still holds up as one of the best comedies ever. Smart, funny and a cornucopia of quotable dialogue.
Chances are you immediately knew what this meant. But just in case…
I read this earlier today, and it reminded me of a deal I made about ten years ago.
I had a co-worker at the time who thought Adam Sandler’s BILLY MADISON and HAPPY GILMORE were the funniest movies she’d ever seen.
“Whaaaaa?” I have nothing against Adam Sandler. I just don’t think he’s funny. “Haven’t you ever seen YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN or SOME LIKE IT HOT?”
“No. Are they funny?” OOF! The verbal equivalent of a kick to the balls.
After the impact of that question wore off, we made a deal: she’d watch my two and I’d watch hers.
Jump to the present. I’ve yet to uphold my end of the deal, and she left years ago, and I doubt she’s followed through. Which is fine by me.
The above quote also reminded me I haven’t watched YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN or SOME LIKE IT HOT in years. The more I think about them, the more I realize how incredibly well-written each one is. Comedy that’s still fresh and hilarious years later. Even nicer, it’s smart-funny. Granted, YF can be a bit…bawdy at times, but that’s Mel Brooks for you.
What’s also so impressive is that the jokes are organic. They don’t feel forced. Each one fits the situation perfectly.
“Why would a guy want to marry a guy?” “Security!”
“Igor, will you help with the bags?” “Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the turban.”
They just keep coming, one after another. While a lot of dialogue today comes across as plain old snark, it’s the opposite here. And not just funny – double entendres, plays on words, etc., etc. Again – smart writing.
Count me among the writers out there who would love to be able write like this. Believe me – it ain’t easy.
Could movies like those be made today? Hard to say. If anything, the modern equivalent would be more like the writing on 30 ROCK or the still-missed ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.
What not-recent comedy do you think still holds up, and why?
-Incidentally, this is blogpost #300. In honor of that, go enjoy a piece of pie. Tell ’em I sent you.