Could it get made today?

psycho-house
“Another “boy and his mother” story? Pass.”

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.

-Special offer just for you!

course-discount-maximumz

The fine folks at Script Reader Pro are running a discount for Maximum Z readers on their downloadable screenwriting course Script Hackr.

Forget all the confusing and vague “fluff” found in most screenwriting courses, coverage and books. Script Hackr will skyrocket your screenwriting skills by utilizing rarely talked about hacks and hands-on practical exercises to de-mystify theory.

The course retails at $299, but you can get it for just $99 by using the coupon code M4X1Z3 at checkout.

You can check out more details on the course here:

Is the t-shirt THAT important?

 

oz-bucket
You know that bucket is mentioned a few pages earlier

Writers put onto paper how they visualize the events of the story.

Your get an idea of how you want things to look, maybe even a picture-perfect image, so you put those details onto the page, which is fine.

But sometimes the writer feels the need to include as much detail as they can. “To really paint a picture with words,” they might say. But it’s easy to get carried away. Some writers see this as a golden opportunity to really flex their literary muscles, so they go all out.

A big write-up about the contents of a room. Or identifying specifics about the clothing a character is wearing. That sort of thing.

While that kind of colorful minutiae might work in a novel, many see it as a negative when it comes to screenplays (opinions may vary, but this appears to be the general consensus).

There’s only one reason the writing should be that specific: if the item in question plays a part in the story. Is it vitally important that we notice it? If the answer is “no”, then all it’s doing is taking up valuable real estate on the page.

When the writer makes a point of identifying a particular item, then we should expect it to make a return appearance later on. Set up, pay off, remember?  It’s better to have a reader think “Aha! So that’s what that was for,” rather than “Huh? What was that for?” or “Why was that in there?”

By drawing our attention towards something that is more of an issue for the set designer or wardrobe department, it slows down the story’s momentum and makes for some unsatisfying reading.

Tell us the things we need to know, rather than the things you think would be nice to know.

 

Big net still at the ready

net
It’s all in the wrist

The current work slate involves a few story ideas, a fair mix of new and old, and all of them appeal to me as far as being “I’d want to see this” and “that sounds like fun” types of material.

As they should.

But it’s easy to forget that while you may be crazy about your story and totally get it, others might need a little more convincing.

It’s one thing to have a built-in audience already clamoring for your material, but what about trying to appeal to everybody else?

That can be a little tricky, but it’s not totally impossible.

This line of thinking reminded me of a post I wrote a little over two years ago, and I believe it’s still relevant.

Enjoy.

“As you work your way through the various stages of assembling your story, how much do you take the audience’s needs and wants into account?

You’re obviously writing something you would want to see, but do you ever consider the viewing tastes of someone who’s not like you whatsoever?

While I may write high-concept tales of adventure that would definitely appeal to 12-year-old me, it’s also my objective to try to craft those stories in such a way so they could entertain anybody of any age.

(Strong examples of this kind of storytelling? Most of the Pixar catalog.)

Here are just a few things to take into consideration:

-Are you treating the reader/audience the way they should be treated? Which means with intelligence. I’ve always hated when a story feels dumbed down, and suspect most other moviegoers do as well.

-That being said, is your story simple enough to the point that anybody could understand what’s going on, or at least have a general understanding of it?

-Regardless of what genre your story falls into, how much are you taking advantage of the elements of that genre? Since you’re most likely already a fan and probably have a good idea of what’s expected, this is your golden opportunity to show the rest of us what’s so appealing about it. Play on those strengths.

-With modern audiences more knowledgeable and movie-savvy than most writers realize, it’s more important than ever to come up with material that’s really new and original. What is it about your story that really sets it apart? What can you offer that we haven’t seen before?

As we start with an idea, develop it into a story that will eventually end up as a script, a lot of us daydream about the resulting movie, and how totally awesome it would be for it to be a big hit.

We can just picture the tremendous box office, rave reviews, non-stop awards, a king’s ransom of a paycheck, being begged to pick from a smorgasbord of new projects, all stemming from this story we cranked out with our own little hands, now practically guaranteed a place in the pantheon of pop culture.

“Everybody’s going to love it!” you imagine.

The reality is – they’re not, and a lot of that stuff won’t happen. But don’t let that stop you from trying.

The best we can do is write a solid, entertaining story populated with interesting characters who find themselves in unique situations, and hope people like it.”