On one of the many screenwriting forums I frequent, a screenwriter posed the question “Did this producer steal my screenplay?”
Good question. Here’s the story.
Making the sale
It seems the writer was approached by a producer who was interested in one of her screenplays. They swapped a series of emails, exchanged several versions of a sales contract, and arrived at a purchase agreement. Yay for her.
The screenwright delivered her screenplay via email, the producer delivered the agreed upon sum. Again, Yay for her.
But the final contract didn’t arrive with the payment. In fact, neither the screenwriter or the producer signed a hard copy.
Why too much detail destroys screenplay description – and pisses readers off
I just finished slogging my way through another script as a judge for a screenplay competition.
Yes, slogging. It was painful. It was boring. Frankly, I couldn’t finish it. I gave it a “pass”.
Because the writer gave me too much description.
Exactly how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop
The screenwriter told us just how many steps a character took to cross a room (11), whether the couch was on the right or the left of the doorway (left), how many seconds a dog barked (5), and precisely how much space is between the lights in an alleyway (30 meters). I learned that the kitchen table is rectangular, and how big it is (approximately 33 inches by 60 inches).
I wanted to shoot myself in the head. For the record, this is not how you want to make your reader feel.
Or “Why Social Media is like a bad tattoo”.
Okay, that’s hyperbole. But I relearned a lesson recently.
If you’re a budding screenwriter, an indie filmmaker, an aspiring or established anything, social media should oughtta be part of your life. It’s where we make professional connections, build our brand, spread the word and mebbe, just mebbe, start careers.
Are you doing it right?
First, a related story.
Last month, we were interviewing for someone to manage our online marketing. We had one excellent prospect, who interviewed well. He had worked in online marketing for a large name corporation, but had spent the past 18 months doing other things. Understandable. The past 18 months have been tough on everyone. But he was ready to get back into the game.
After the interview, and while contemplating the next round, we did a little Googling. Of course we found his Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and a blog. In the bio section of the blog was this:
Finding your descriptive voice in screenwriting
Screenplays aren’t Literature.
If there’s one core screenwriting truth you’re supposed to learn as soon as possible, that’s it. All the stuff that made your fiction writing awesome, all the flowery language, the detailed descriptions, and lengthy internal dialogues are anathema to the script. That two page treatise on your protagonists 1970’s wardrobe and its roots in a painful high school career fraught with bullying and inattentive parents? Fuggedaboudit. What got you gold stars in creative writing will get you tossed at page one by an intern at insertprodcohere.
In screenwriting, the industry tells us, your descriptive passages must remain simple, clear, minimalist. Describe ONLY what the viewer might see (with a few exceptions) and eschew Literary flourish (as well as directorial specifics – but that’s another discussion).
Play a little telephone
I often tell people: Imagine you’re watching an awesome movie (your movie is awesome, right?), and you’re on the phone with a friend. You’re describing to them what’s happening, while it happens. In fact, try it. Turn on the TV, call a friend, and see how it feels to really try to keep the story moving real time… 1 minute per page, 90 pages for 90 minutes.
Here’s what happens when you insist on being Literary on the phone:
Slowly publishing the Faeries feature horror script a section at a time online.
FAERIES – the full release
Become a fan on FACEBOOK
Faeries was an experiment in process, a personal challenge to complete a feature script from concept to completion in 12 weeks, and prove that we deserved the opportunity to deliver on a writing assignment. Did we make it? Read the writing blog – each day of the writing process was meticulously recorded. (Remember that the blog posts sort in reverse – so start at the bottom and work your way through ’em)
We finished the play, submitted it to 2009 Shriekfest, and were chosen as Finalists.
We’ve since had a half-dozen production companies request it… but we’ve also got a number of writer friends who wanted a peek. So we decided to release it a section at a time right here.
W00t! I’ve been invited to guest on a panel of writers for @ScriptChat on Twitter next Sunday, February 28th. We are thrilled to announce our first panel of guests at scriptchat! We’ve comprised two different panels of talented indie filmmakers/producers…
(aka: Percy Jackson: The Story Thief)
“Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” – a review about mismanaging story
*** NOTE: Spoilers galore. ***
I am not one of those “the movie is never as good as the book” guys. Ever read Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the source material for Blade Runner)? You couldn’t help but make a better movie than book, as the book is laughably bad. And Blade Runner is one of my all time favorite films.
And I’m not in love with Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief as a book. It’s engaging enough, and full of big ideas, but somewhat lacking in story structure.
So why am I so struck by the failure of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief the movie?
I think, the more I ruminate on it, it’s because the mistakes seem so rooted in fundamental story issues, and seem to favor the weaknesses of the book over its strengths.
IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE BOOK *** spoilers ***
Got an offer to option your screenplay? Here are eleven terms you should know when talking to your attorney.
[See PART I – 10 things to think about when optioning your screenplay]
Okay, so you’ve gotten an option offer, you’ve thought about the 10 things, and you still want to do it. Now it’s time to talk to your attorney, and make some decisions about the negotiation points. Your attorney is going to toss some notes back to you for consideration, and chances are these things are going to be included. (There’ll be lots more than this… from simple typos to wholesale rewrites. But these are the top contenders for “things I think you should know”.)
Ask your attorney to spend some time with you to explain what they mean in the context of your deal… but here’s my take, based on my experience.
DISCLAIMER: I shouldn’t have to say this, but: I Am Not A Lawyer, I am not offering legal advice, and none of the numbers used as examples here should be considered recommendations or as examples of my personal previous contracts (which are none of your beeswax 😉 ). They are provided as hypothetical examples only. Talk to your own attorney about your particular deal.
Every so often I see a conversation about “high concept” films or screenplays that goes something like this:
“That was a high concept film.”
“High concept? It was a bunch of explosions and giant robots! What’s so high concept about that?
“That’s poster-child high concept. By definition.”
“No, high concept means a concept with high aspirations… concepts with a higher calling.”
“High concept” does sound like it’d be more applicable to The Seventh Seal than to 2012. And those who lament Hollywood’s penchant for 90 minute action-figure commercials based on video games from the ’70’s might resent the apparent hijacking of the term to mean its exact opposite, somehow projecting value on the valueless by virtue of its semantic favoritism. But it is what it is… the term is firmly embedded in the lexicon of the industry, and now means precisely the opposite of what it sounds like it means.
So I dug up some old notes I’d written a few years ago, and thought I ‘d repost it here, to sort of bubble it back up to the top of the conversation. A few of the links are no longer any good, but you’ll get the point.
[Become a fan of Grampa Was A Superhero on FACEBOOK]
Writing duo’s family friendly spec script lands option deal with Epiphany Productions.
Santa Cruz, CA – January 31, 2010
Chip Street and Sean Meehan have had unlikely good fortune in their short spec-screenplay writing careers. In an industry where newcomers are told that it’ll take 10 years of writing 20 lousy screenplays to finally get it right and earn any recognition, they’ve beaten the odds three for three.
Their most recent success? The family friendly screenplay Grampa Was A Superhero has been optioned by Mitchell Galin at Epiphany Productions. The story centers on 12-year-old Jesse and his Grampa, who thinks he’s a TV super hero. The elder drags his grandson on a cross-country road trip to confront his imaginary arch enemy… accidentally thwarting crimes along the way and fast becoming a folk hero.