2012 February

Oscars Megasnub

The Oscars this year were pretty grim. The show is looking tired, Billy Crystal had cobwebs on him and there was a huge glitch with the sound. Not fun. I don’t know why an industry built on entertaining audiences can’t put on a show for one evening, but I’m sure there’s a very good reason. I mean, you have Muppets at your disposal – use them.

I know the Academy can’t control the winners, but there was some crazy shit going on this year. They completely snubbed THE TREE OF LIFE, which is an ambitious and rewarding piece of art/dinosaur footage that should be celebrated. So too should RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – with a monkey that looked so much like a monkey I couldn’t tell it wasn’t a monkey. Flawless. MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL lived up to it’s name because the majority of voters don’t believe it exists. Same goes for SUBMARINE, ATTACK THE BLOCK and DRIVE, which were all exceptional, but completely forgotten about in favour of THE ARTIST, which in a few years will look like to stupidest choice for best picture since CRASH.

So I’m metaphorically joining Sacha Baron-Cohen by dumping Bisquik on to Ryan Seacrest (except in my version it’s hot burning oil), and I say boo to the Oscars in 2012. It was like a circus act crossed with a wake.


Concept versus Execution

Concept is your one stellar idea. You hang an entire story around it. It carries your title, characters and plot all the way to awesomeville and back again. Hollywood prizes high concepts above all else, they’re pretty much the currency they trade in and people’s careers have been made (and sustained) on them. So there’s a lot of emphasis, and rightly so.

Examples of excellent concepts are things like LIAR LIAR (a lawyer can’t lie), TRADING PLACES (rich guy and poor guy swap lives) and FINAL DESTINATION (death comes back for people he missed). Boom, you’ve got the movie in your head in one second. A thousand possibilities immediately spring to mind. Half your work is done for you – your concept is a series of ‘What If?’ questions and all you need to do is answer them. A good concept can even sell a bad script, because studios know they can fix the details later as long as the magic is there at the beginning. But here’s the thing… I think the details ARE the concept, or at the very least, they’re how you present it to the world. And presentation is everything.

Take a concept and look at two executions of it. Let’s say it’s the idea of entering a world inside the human mind. On the one hand you’ve got INCEPTION and on the other you’ve got THE LAWNMOWER MAN. Pretty big difference.

Execution lessons

Think about BACK TO THE FUTURE. That is a prime example of perfect execution. You name it, they nailed it. I like to think about the million other directions it could have taken. I remember seeing the film for the first time as a kid with my Dad. I was bouncing down the street afterwards, and I asked my Dad if he liked it. He did, although he was surprised they had a time machine but only went back thirty years. He thought they were going to visit Ancient Rome or somewhere, all these places throughout history (he would have made a shitty screenwriter). Now, with the concept they had (guy invents time machine, kid accidentally uses it), they had that option – but they restrained themselves and it was a great choice. Hell, the time machine itself was originally a fridge. Doc Brown was originally called Professor Brown, and he had a chimpanzee called Shemp. Eric Stoltz was Marty McFly. God have mercy on us all.

The point is, having an idea is one thing. Inspiration hits us all the time. But the execution of that idea is everything. What you chose to focus on, what you chose to leave out, how you take something that exists and give it a twist – this is just as important as the concept itself, maybe more so.

What I learned: This is where I’m at with a sci-fi thriller I’m writing. The concept has a lot to do with time travel, so I’m facing world of infinite possibilities and choices. It’s the easiest thing to overload a project with ‘cool shit’, but that’s a mistake. Do what best serves your concept and edit all the other stuff out. Take what you DO have and make it the best, most exciting version possible. That way you’ll be writing the next BACK TO THE FUTURE and not the next FREEJACK.


New Universal logo

First Paramount update their logo, now Universal. Madness. It’s very blue and shiny, which is exactly what I think people from 1912 would expect from us a hundred years in the future.


Ma’am, I answered your question.

John August is taking some heat on his blog for a rather frivolous post about how to write a script. People are getting all bent out of shape that he didn’t help out a ‘noob’ with the ‘basics’ (even though he has two sites and a podcast dedicated to that). Anyway, if this so-called screenwriter won’t come down from his ivory tower long enough to help out, then I’ll just have to pick up the slack. My credentials? I’ve been reviewed Scriptshadow! Can John August boast the same? I think not.

Here’s the incendiary message in full. I’ll break it down line by line:

Dear John August,
or whomever will read this,

That’s me. Hello.

I have a few questions, I have come up with a great idea for a movie and I am wondering how to get the idea out there.

Congratulations on your great idea. Getting it out there isn’t as easy. The right person (in Hollywood) has to hear about it. They also need to have lots of money, lots of power, like you as a person and be in a good mood when the hear it. So, persistence is absolutely the key. And being super cool.

I want to write a script for the movie. I can vision it so perfectly in my mind. How much do I need to type up? 

All of it. Do not write less than 90 pages or more than 110 pages. This is important. Some poor bastard has to read it at the end of a long day, so try for under 100.

How can I get it copyrighted?

You can do it online at the Library of Congress or the WGA. But don’t worry too much about this. Just by writing it, you’re the author, so it’s yours. No one will steal it.

Where do I go from there?

You have two choices, either rewrite your first script, or start your second script.

My idea is to send it straight to the movie companies but is that the best choice? I need some info on it.

You mean like the Majors? Unfortunately, they won’t be available as they are very busy. They won’t read your script for a number of reasons. Firstly, it opens them up to getting sued if they make a film even remotely like yours. Secondly, there’s just too much material out there. They use agents, producers and actors as a kind of filter for what’s good – before it gets to the Studios, someone, somewhere has thought highly of that project. Thirdly, they have a very large pool of established professionals that they can draw upon for projects. A better scenario is to use what contacts you have in the entertainment industry and ask them to read your script. If they like it, they might in turn pass it on to someone they know who can help you, and so on. Lastly, you can submit it blindly to a couple of management/production companies. This is like farting in the wind, but you never know, if it’s strong enough, someone might smell it.

If something could be set up how long would it take and how fast would this screenplay/script need to be written.

What, you haven’t written the script yet? This is all backwards. You have to write the script first, otherwise no one will be able to judge if the story is strong enough to invest millions of dollars in making it. You can’t just show up with a piece of paper. I wish you could, I have at least 175 great ideas for movies. But ideas are easy, what people love and what studios pay big bucks for is the execution of that idea.

If you are lucky enough for something to be set up, be patient. It will likely take about three years before the movie is released.

As for how fast a script needs to be written, it varies. For spec scripts, expect to have your first draft done in about 8 weeks, then give it as long as it takes to do the rewrite. Heck, spend a year and make it perfect. You’ll learn a ton. If you’re a professional who’s writing on assignment, I think you get less time, like six weeks for a first draft. I can’t remember. Check John August site for the exact info– oh wait, scratch that.

I am looking forward to a response.

You’re welcome. And hey, don’t be discouraged. Writing a script is a lot of work, it’s a thousand decisions and a hundred problems that all have to be solved, but it’s the most creatively rewarding and satisfying thing there is. Good luck with it.


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