Archive for April 2010

Link of the Day: Screenline Insider Blog

April 16, 2010

Screenline has launched an interesting new feature: former Paramount distribution and marketing executive Ellen Pittleman will be examining a foreign territory’s box office trends each week. This week she takes a look at Brazil, which has seen a huge uptick in box office revenues thanks to an upturn in their economy and higher ticket prices from 3D Films.

Brazilian films took a 14.2% market share with 84 releases and 16m admissions, topped by Daniel Filho’s comedy sequel “If I Were You 2” which earned R$50.5m, had 5.7m admissions and placed second as the top performer for the year.

At number one was Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” with R$81.1m gross and admissions of 9.2m.

Paris Filmes released “Twilight: New Moon” which grossed more in Brazil than all of the rest of Latin America to earn R$45.9m on admissions of 5.6m tickets sold. It was the best opening weekend of the past two years.

Brazil’s government supports the local filmmaking industry with tax incentives, and has recently come up with something they call the Sector Fund, an incentive-driven program geared to increase the number of movies being released each year capable of selling more than a million theater tickets.

It’s good reading, so check it out. And if you’re looking for more tasty links, remember to check out my links page, an up-to-date archive of resources and entertaining reading for screenwriters.


Spec Tracking, Week of April 12th, 2010

April 14, 2010

Sorry, folks, that it’s been such a long time since I posted loglines of scripts that are circulating in Hollywood right now. This so far has been the most popular feature on this blog, so I’ll try to remember to post them frequently. At some point in the near future I’ll be doing a week-long blitz with several dozen loglines for your reading enjoyment, so keep an eye out for that.

This week, we have a CIA action thriller (always a perpetual favorite; if there’s one thing people love to write about more than hit men, it’s spies), a supernatural horror period piece, and a rom com with a mediocre premise. People, if you’re going to write a romantic comedy, either your premise or your writing had better be pure gold. Oh, and for good measure, I’ve added a logline for the latest addition to the oversaturated “dance competition” sub-genre.

By Brandon M.
Logline: A formerly brilliant CIA agent, now a washed-up has-been, reconnects with his long-lost true love and estranged teenage son on a cross-country mission to save the world from imminent disaster.

by John P.
Logline: Upon inheriting the empire, a Roman prince turns to his former bodyguard to escort him safely back to Rome, but on the journey they must survive six rogue Praetorians cursed with demonic powers and hell bent on killing the prince before he’s crowned `Caesar’.
The story is loosely based on a young Roman prince who inherited the throne after his father’s death.

by Philip S. and Chad D.
Logline: When Lance Guitars, a depressed and fame-starved choreographer, finds himself hounded by goons over a gambling debt, he assembles a rag tag crew to compete for the prize money in the national dance competition.

by Flint W.
Logline: A romantic comedy about a mild-mannered suburban dad who, in an attempt to lure back his ex-wife, decides to become the sugar daddy to an independent-minded but down-on-her-luck younger woman.

If you have to mention in your romantic comedy’s logline that it’s a romantic comedy, it’s probably not a good sign — the movie’s description should give the genre away without needing to explicitly specify what that genre is. Of all four, the one with demonic Praetorians is the only one that sounded even mildly interesting, but I predict it’s the first script that will sell the fastest. What say you?

The Gross-Out Comedy: How to Do It Right

April 12, 2010

The R-rated comedy has rarely, if ever, been more popular. What began with classics like Porky’s in the 80s found a renaissance in the 90s with the creation of the “American Pie” franchise. From there, filmmakers like Todd Philips (with “Old School” and “The Hangover”) and Judd Apatow (“Superbad,” “Knocked-Up”) turned the genre into an art form — still going strong with the recent “Hot Tub Time Machine” and the upcoming “Get Him to the Greek,” just to name a couple.

Marketing is greatly aided by red-band trailers, which are ostensibly for viewers over 17 but, ironically, succeed by luring audiences not yet old enough to buy tickets for said movie without an adult present.

Writing a raunchy comedy can be a great way to establish yourself as a writer, but the new writer should take caution: they aren’t as easy to write as they seem, and can very easily go wrong. A comedy script relying on gross-out humor and ignoring all other conventions of screenwriting isn’t worth the Final Draft software it was written on. Shock value doesn’t redeem a bad script.

We’re all familiar with the “getting there” model of comedy: a group, usually made up of guys in their 20s or 30s, has to get from Point A to Point B; what happens in between is the funny part. The road trip comedy is only one variation; you’ve also got Guys Go on Vacation or To College, Guys Get Stoned and Confused, or Guys Get Lost Somewhere and Find Themselves Terribly Out of Place.

What makes these movies so tempting to write, besides their frequent onscreen success, is the fact that you know these guys. These guys are your friends. You can write a movie about your friends. It’s easy!

Only — it’s not, because just about everything funny that has happened to you or your friends is either not funny enough to belong in a movie, or has already been thought of. Therein lies the secret difficulty of writing this kind of movie: how to come up with jokes we haven’t already seen done 100 times? We’ve seen characters get drunk and puke on each other, sleep with people they’re ashamed of in the morning, get uncomfortably affectionate with each other, go to prison, get in fights where their asses wind up kicked, or some combination of the above.

One way to get around this obstacle is to take the joke further, and somewhere unexpected — not for the sake of shocking us, but for the sake of surprising us. Having the main characters in “The Hangover” be pursued by bad guys is not inspired. Having them negotiate their freedom by agreeing to submit to a taser demonstration before a classroom of children? Inspired. Writers should never be afraid of going above and beyond silly into the awesomely weird — if it’s funny, we’ll happily take that ride with you.

Where many writers go wrong is to believe that rather than introducing a standard movie setup and taking it somewhere uninspired, what audience really want to see is something bigger, badder and grosser than anything they’ve ever seen in a movie before. I’m thinking of calling this “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” Syndrome after the eponymous movie that, thank God, grossed about nothing at the box office. You could also call it the “Freddy Got Fingered” Disorder.

I recently read a script in which two lesbians had sex bent over a sink with the use of a marital aide, a man having sex with a morbidly obese woman rolled out-of-control down a San Francisco street as horrified onlookers watched, and an elderly couple engaged in a sexual act known as “chili-dogging.” (If you don’t know what that is, I recommend you don’t look it up.) This all happened before page 30.

No. Mistake.

Gross-out comedies are still movies, and when writing them you must still obey standard screenwriting rules. This involves a workable plot, of course, and a basic grasp on everyday logic (say, when your character appears at point A in one scene and at point B in another, we must understand logically how they got there).

But more importantly, gross-out comedies still have heart. A screenplay is a narrative, and a narrative has a central conflict, a resolution to that conflict, and a redemption for the main character. You must make time to introduce the characters, to show us what makes them funny and appealing, and to get us invested in their story, before you begin slopping bodily fluids willy-nilly around the page.

I’m not saying your characters have to stop and have a heartfelt sit-down that stops the action dead in its tracks and makes us all forget to laugh. If your characters are strongly written, then the aspects of them that are funny will infuse even the more serious scenes with humor. You shouldn’t be afraid to address real, genuine problems within a raunchy comedy. Think of Seth Rogen fighting with Katherine Heigl about responsibility in “Knocked Up,” the genuine love behind the dysfunctional family members in “Wedding Crashers,” the angst and humiliation suffered by Jason Biggs’ character in “American Pie.”

Without heart, what you get is an endless string of Saturday Night Live sketches, what script readers and executives refer to as an “episodic” script, meaning comic setpieces are strung together for their own sake rather than each vitally advancing a story. Don’t make this mistake — take it in a different direction. There’s still plenty of room for innovation and originality within this genre, and at its best, R-rated comedies are hilarious to read long before they’re ever played out onscreen.

Why Letters of Intent Don’t Work

April 6, 2010

One of my favorite film bloggers, Jeff Steele, has a lovely piece in The Wrap about why, if you are a producer, you shouldn’t bother trying to lock down a letter of intent from a star.

Assuming you, reading this right now at your desk while possibly wearing sweatpants, are not a producer trying to get Rob Pattinson to commit to your independent romantic drama, it’s still interesting reading. Producers and screenwriters often fall into the same trap of believing that if they have a recognizable talent attached to a project, the project will be easier to set up with a buyer. The opposite is true: buyers typically few an attached actor or director as a liability, not an asset.

As for letters of intent, they are inherently meaningless when you’re dealing with an indie. If a buyer wants to go after a big star for a project, they will get on the horn with that star’s representatives and hammer out a deal that way. Getting a celebrity to vocally endorse your project can raise interest in the project itself, but the celebrity’s agents and managers don’t like it — why tie up a bankable star with a million-dollar project when they could be going after tens of millions of dollars scoring a part in a tentpole studio film?

Anyway, Jeff Steele says it better than I could:

Actors are paid to act; any agent can tell you that the script is the least important part to them. When it comes to the principal cast (upon which the sales and financing are predicated), unless I can call the agent or manager directly myself and verify, there is no real attachment. The exception being a Spielberg or a Scorsese, whose stature in the industry could reasonably facilitate any star interest.

I had a project recently where the director was lifelong friends with a breakout star, who had committed to doing the film. The agency was noncommittal. Why? Because the agency didn’t want to tie up a month of the actor’s time for a measly million bucks, when they could be getting 5-10x that from a studio for the same timeslot. A lot of money and time was spent pre-selling territories and shoring up the financing, only to have the star drop out, under CAA’s (er, I mean a random agency’s) pressure.

So don’t kill yourself wondering if your project would become more viable if you could only score five minutes of an A-lister’s time in the gym locker room or in line at Starbucks. Focus on getting the buyer interested instead.