Marvel Studios is notoriously secretive when it comes to their big screen endeavors, and when it comes to the next assembly of The Avengers, they’re not even trusting the cast members who play Earth’s mightiest heroes to keep their mouths shut.
Avengers: Infinity War is done shooting and production on Avengers 4 is underway. We’ve already gotten a taste of what The Avenger sequel will bring to the table next summer with the footage that played at both The D23 Expo and San Diego Comic-Con, but when it comes to hearing new details about the movie, we may not be able to rely on the cast members to accidentally spill secrets as often as they did before. That’s because directors Anthony & Joe Russo didn’t give their cast the entire Infinity War script and only provided them with the relevant pages and information they needed to effectively deliver the best performance.
Elizabeth Olsen recently appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where she was immediately asked by the nerdy Stephen Colbert if there was anything she could reveal about the next Avengers movie. Olsen couldn’t really say anything more than revealing the lengths to which Anthony & Joe Russo went to ensure that secrets weren’t known by too many people (the relevant part starts around 1:09):
If you can’t watch the video, here’s what Olsen had to say during the interview:
“This time, they actually decided to not give us scripts. They gave me my pages and then they explained other things that are happening… I’ll be so shocked and surprised. I’ll be like ‘Oh I see, that’s what was happening to the world at that time.’”
Interestingly enough, Dave Bautista recently said that he didn’t read the entire Avengers Infinity War script as well, but he made it sound like it was a personal choice he made. Responding to a fan on Twitter, Bautista posted this:
I chose not to read it. Gods honest truth! I want to sit there with my bucket of popcorn and bag on M&M's and be surprised! #fanboyhttps://t.co/sg0nOGoDuQ
Even if Bautista made the choice not to read the script as opposed to being deprived the opportunity to do so, one member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is being kept more in the dark than the others. Apparently Spider-Man: Homecoming star Tom Holland likes to run off at the mouth a little too much with spoilery information. In fact, Holland is so much of a security risk when it comes to giving away secrets that the Russos wouldn’t even tell the actor who he was fighting in a particular scene. Holland told the BBC awhile back:
“Yeah, there is one moment in Avengers where I don’t know who that person is. And I’m fighting him, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than pretending to fight a ‘monster’ in front of 200 people, in Spandex. You know, literally like dodging stuff and trying to web him. They’re all like, ‘That’s Great Tom, more energy. More Energy. Jump. Jump.”
When you consider the fact that the Avengers: Infinity War cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson, Chadwick Boseman, Cobie Smulders, Benedict Wong, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Bradley Cooper, and Anthony Mackie, that’s a lot of people to give the entire story of Infinity War too. Statistically speaking, it’s just smart to limit how much those people know about the movie. So some of them won’t know what’s happening until they see the movie like the rest of us.
Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters next summer on May 4th, 2018.
Writing is rewriting. Here are some questions you should ask in that process.
A reader question from Robin:
I am in the process of working on my third draft of a screenplay. I know there is something still missing from the story. I just can’t quite put my finger on it. What kinds of questions should I be asking in regards to story and/or character that may help me figure this out?
Robin, you have hit on one of the biggest issues in the entire process: Rewriting. Of course we’ve all heard the adage, “Writing is rewriting.” Fine. But what to do? How to do it?
I’ve had long conversations about this with Tom Benedek, the screenwriter who wrote Cocoon and my partner at Screenwriting Master Class. Tom taught a rewrite class at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts in their MFA program and is as well-versed in this subject than perhaps anybody. There are many areas to focus on, but for purposes of this response to your question, let me suggest your first order of business is to make absolutely sure that the most fundamental dynamics related to your story’s characters are in order. Here is a series of questions to help start you in that process:
Who is your Protagonist?
What do they want?
What do they need?
Who is attempting to stop the Protagonist from attaining their goal [Nemesis]?
Which characters are the most intimately connected to your Protagonist’s emotional development [Attractor]?
Which characters are the most intimately connected to your Protagonist’s intellectual development [Mentor]?
Which characters test your Protagonist by switching from ally to enemy, enemy to ally [Trickster]?
What is the arc of your Protagonist’s metamorphosis?
By “want,” I mean conscious goal, something we know by the end of Act One the Protagonist is actively attempting to achieve.
By “need,” I mean unstated goal, some aspect of the Protagonist’s inner self that represents a key part of their Authentic Being or Core Essence.
The underlying assumption here is that most stories are psychological journeys, the events that transpire in the External World (Plotline) impacting the Protagonist’s Internal World (Themeline) which results in their metamorphosis.
Oftentimes I read scripts where it’s clear the writer has little to no idea what is going on in the story’s Internal World, the script a series of occurrences that don’t tie together in any emotionally satisfying way or barely scratch the surface of what transpires in the Protagonist’s metamorphosis.
And while it’s true that in some stories the Protagonist does not go through a transformation process, the fact is in most movies, they do.
Thus if the meta point of a story is about the Protagonist’s metamorphosis, then the surrounding characters and events that happen need to service that emotional plot.
I had a terrific conversation recently with David Seidler, the screenwriter who won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech. We discussed how powerful a metaphor Bertie’s stuttering was. In the External World, this Protagonist had a speech impediment. But the real meaning of that condition is tied precisely to the story’s Internal World, the challenge for Bertie to find his voice to claim his right to be the King of England. Thus on the surface, there is the relationship between Bertie and Lionel, the speech pathologist, attempting a variety of methods to overcome Bertie’s stuttering. But the power of the story lies in Bertie’s psychological journey from a man plagued by the shadow of his father and haunted by the fear of his monarchical responsibilities to being thrust into a situation where he had to assume the throne.
In that process, Bertie had a Nemesis [his stuttering and at the root cause of that condition his father], an Attractor [his wife], a Mentor [Lionel], and a Trickster [his brother Edward]. Each plays a role in Bertie’s psychological journey as he moved from a state of Disunity [a member of the monarchical family who can not speak in public, who does not want to be King] to Unity [he learns how to manage his stuttering and finds his voice to become the King of the people].
In all honesty, I would say that 90% of the scripts I review that have rewrite issues, the problems go directly back to the characters and a lack of understanding about why they are there in the story, and what their respective narrative functions are.
So I would suggest you start there. Once you think through all that, then you can address the script’s structure as it relates to both the Plotline and Themeline, and so on.
GITS readers, what questions do you ask when you rewrite a script?
On a limited basis, I work one-on-one with writers on their script project.
Imagine having your very own private script workshop. A structured environment with content and a schedule tailored to meet your specific creative needs. Your own unique online course site. And a one-on-one mentor relationship with a professional screenwriter and educator.
Since launching SMC in 2010, Tom Benedek and I have worked with writers of all backgrounds and interests in the context of numerous private script workshops. Here are testimonials from two:
“Working with Scott in SMC’s private workshop was an invaluable experience. The private workshop gave me the attention I needed to address my script’s problem. I was so impressed with the quality of his teaching, the way the course was structured and the interactive process. In the end, not only did Scott help me solve my character problem, he elevated my script as a whole. He is a wonderful mentor and I learned a lot about the craft of screenwriting.” — Gladys Stone, screenwriter of “Tulio” (Semifinalist, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition)
“Working with Scott in a private workshop arrangement through SMC greatly accelerated my screenwriting knowledge and craftsmanship. Scott is a most dynamic, gifted and generous educator. He offered a holistic, character-driven approach to story that helped bring out my best as a writer. The flexible syllabus of the mentorship invites exploration of creative impulses without fear of losing direction or purpose. The script on which Scott consulted placed in the top one percent of the 2011 AFF screenwriting competition and has opened industry doors. Most importantly the SMC has cemented lasting self confidence in my abilities as a writer.” — Gyan Alexander, screenwriter of “Convinced” (Semifinalist, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition)
People who have done private script workshops through Screenwriting Master Class include professional screenwriters, actors, directors, best-selling non-fiction authors, playwrights, and novelists, as well as beginning, intermediate and advanced writers.
We offer one-on-one sessions with any of our popular group workshops:
For those who want a comprehensive approach to learning the craft — immersing yourself in screenwriting theory, then putting that to use in developing an original story and writing a complete draft — there is The Quest, a unique 20 week program.
The Quest changed my life. It gave me the structure to be immersed in screenwriting and the flexibility needed to write and accommodate work and family life. Not only did I come out with a quality screenplay, but a practical approach that I can apply to each script I write.
Scott’s instincts as a mentor are spot on. He can tell the difference between when you need encouragement and when you need a good kick in the pants. Under his guidance, you become the kind of writer you want to be, the kind that doesn’t need to wait for inspiration.
You can spend your time reading through screenwriting inspiration, tips or shortcuts, thinking it will help more than actually doing the work, or you can take the leap and do The Quest.
— Taylor Gordon
Here are three big reasons to consider an SMC private script workshop:
Writing a screenplay involves making thousands of choices about characters, plot, theme and so forth. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have feedback from a professional to help steer you through the process enabling you to avoid huge story pitfalls that could derail your scripting process?
Writing a screenplay is a thankless, lonely job. Wouldn’t it be great to have the ongoing support of a professional to enable you to overcome inevitable story problems and emotional downswings?
Writing a screenplay is a mystery. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to learn proven principles and practices from a professional with years of experience working in the entertainment industry, an approach to writing you can use again and again on your future stories?
All the reported spec script deals from January through June this year.
1. Title: Slayer Logline: A simple fisherman who, when his wife is kidnapped and his village slaughtered, trains for 20 years to become the greatest warrior alive in order to wreak vengeance on the four demonic knights responsible. Writer: Joel Dorland Genre: Action Management: Good Fear Film + Management Prod Co: Prime Universe Productions and Marlowe Pictures Date: 1/13/2017 Notes: Option deal. Script discovered off the Black List website. Writer participated in 2015 Black List mini-lab.
2. Title: Keeper of the Diary Logline: The story of Otto Frank’s struggle to find a publisher for the diary written by his daughter Anne Frank before she perished in the Holocaus. Writers: Sam Franco, Evan Kilgore Genre: Drama Management: Bellevue Productions Agency: Paradigm Buyer: Fox Searchlight Date: 1/14/2017 Notes: Subject to a bidding war involving Paramount, Amblin, StudioCanal.
3. Title: Little America Logline: In a dystopian future, a former American Force Recon member is hired by a Chinese billionaire to go into an American ghetto and rescue his daughter. Writer: Rowan Athale Genre: Science Fiction Agency: WME Management: Grandview Buyer: Universal Date: 1/25/2017. Notes: Bidding war.
4. Title: Skyward Logline: True story about two families in 1979 who secretly build a homemade hot air balloon in their garage in a plan to escape over the Berlin Wall. Writer: Joe Ballarini Genre: Historical Drama Agency: Paradigm Buyer: 20th Century Fox Date: 1/26/2017
5. Title: Unfit Logline: The shocking true story of Carrie Buck, a young Virginia woman who became a lightning rod for that movement and was forced to singlehandedly fight against it for the one thing she desperately wanted — to be a mother. Writer: Melissa London Hilfers Genre: Historical Drama Agency: Paradigm Management: Alan Gasmer Buyer: Amazon Studios Date: 2/2/2017 Notes: Bidding war.
6. Title: /reddoor Logline: A journalist discovers a new game app can kill people in real life once they enter the game. He then needs to race to save both he and his sister before they meet their demise. Writers: Teddy Tenenbaum, Minsun Park Genre: Supernatural Thriller Agency: Paradigm Management: Jim Wedaa Buyer: Sony Pictures Date: 2/6/2017. Notes: Pre-emptive offer.
7. Title: The Impossible War Logline: The true story of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin as they raced against time and each other to come up with a desperately needed cure. Writer: Robert Specland Genre: Historical Drama Agency: UTA Management: UTA Pacific View Management Buyer: Black Bear Pictures Date: 2/8/2017. Notes: Auction. Mid-six figures.
8. Title: The New Neighbors Logline: A couple moves into an affluent suburban community only to find out that their enclave is filled with dirty secrets. Writers: Leslye Headland, David Schickler Genre: Psychological Thriller Agency: UTA (Headland), CAA (Schickler) Management: Anonymous Content (Headland), Gotham Group (Schickler) Buyer: STX Entertainment Date: 2/9/2017. Notes: This is an option deal.
9. Title: Reckless Logline: When a legendary retired assassin is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she must return to the life she left behind and complete one final job in order to secure a future for her young daughter. Writer: John Swetnam Genre: Action Agency: Paradigm Management: Industry Entertainment Buyer: Amblin Entertainment Date: 2/15/17 Notes: Auction. Mid-to-high six figures.
10. Title: The Hard Way Out Logline: A wrongfully convicted man returns to his small town in Texas and gets involved with a vulnerable, free spirit. Writer: Brad Mirman Genre: Drama Agency: Gersh Management: Hands In The Middle Management & Productions Production Company: Outside the Box Film Partners Date: 2/28/17. Notes: Option deal.
11. Title: Bad Cop Bad Cop Logline: An R-rated action buddy comedy about two hapless cops who stumble on a case that exposes a conspiracy of corruption in their own precinct. Writers: Fortune Feimster, Brian Jarvis, & Jim Freeman Genre: Action Comedy Agency: ICM Partners Management: Truhett/Garcia Management Buyer: DreamWorks Studios Date: 3/1/17.
12. Title: Marian Logline: After a conspiracy to conquer England in which the love of her life Robin Hood dies before her eyes, Marian picks up the cause to lead her people into a pivotal war. She comes to power, charging into a battle that will not only decide the fate of the kingdom but will see her don the mantle of the man she loved. In the process, she rises as a legend herself. Writer: Pete Barry Genre: Action Drama Agency: Paradigm Management: Pannon Entertainment Buyer: Sony Pictures Entertainment Date: 3/6/17. Notes: First-timer. Preemptive purchase.
13. Title: The Shitheads Logline: A pair of deeply unqualified bozos who have been hired to transport a troubled teenage millionaire to rehab. Writer: Macon Blair Genre: Comedy Agency: CAA Management: Anonymous Content Buyer: Imperative Entertainment Date: 3/6/17. Notes: Tracy Morgan and Luke Wilson attached to star, Blair to direct.
14. Title: Our Lady of Guadalupe Logline: In 1531, the visitation of the Virgin Mary in a small town in Mexico leads a humble man named Juan Diego to push the local bishop to get a temple erected in her name. Writer: Joe Eszterhas Genre: Religious Drama Agency: ICM Partners Management: LINK Buyer: MGM Date: 3/7/17. Notes: This is the first spec script sale by Eszterhas in over a decade. During the 90s, he was the ‘king’ of the spec script market.
15. Title: Bad Times at the El RoyaleLogline: N/A Writer: Drew Goddard Genre: Thriller Agency: UTA Buyer: 20th Century Fox Date: 3/8/17. Notes: Goddard to direct.
16. Title: The Claim Logline: A single father with a criminal background must uncover the whereabouts of his kidnapped daughter while fighting the mysterious claims of another couple who insist that the child is theirs. Writer: Damien Chazelle Genre: Thriller Agency: WME Management: Exile Entertainment Buyer: Motion Picture Capital, Oceanside Media, Route One Entertainment Date: 3/13/17. Notes: A 2010 Black List script. Option deal.
17. Title: Twin Blades Logline: Zoe, an American tech entrepreneur who relocates her company to China, and Maylin, a local female bodyguard hired to protect her struggle to coexist in their daily routine. When Zoe’s life is threatened, the two must put aside their differences and join forces to survive. Write: Ingrid Eskeland-Adetuyi Genre: Action Comedy Agency: APA Management: Zero Gravity Management Buyer: Cristal Pictures, The Donners’ Company Date: 3/13/17 Notes: First-time writer. Recent graduate of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
18. Title: Infinite Logline: A schizophrenic discovers his hallucinations are actually memories of past lives that he can access as well as the skills he possessed in those time periods. Writer: Ian Shorr Genre: Science Fiction Agency: UTA Management: Bellevue Productions Buyer: Paramount Pictures Date: 3/15/17 Notes: The spec is based on The Reincarnationist Papers, an unpublished novel by D. Eric Maikranz.
19. Title: Space Race Logline: N/A Writer: Daniel Kunka Genre: Science Fiction Action Agency: ICM Partners Management: Madhouse Entertainment Buyer: Universal Pictures Date: 3/16/17 Notes: Preemptive purchase.
20. Title: Darker Saints Logline: A female FBI forensics expert is called in to assist the police in profiling a vicious serial killer. She is stunned to discover that this killer is wiping out the entire female bloodline of another family — her own — and she’s his next victim. Writer: Tony Kayden Genre: Thriller Agency: N/A Production Company: Imagination Worldwide Date: 3/22/17 Notes: Option deal.
21. Title: Body Cam Logline: Several LAPD officers are haunted by a malevolent spirit that is tied to the murder of a black youth at the hands of two white cops… all of which was caught on a body cam video that was destroyed in a cover up. Writer: Richmond Riedel Genre: Supernatural Action Management: Bellevue Producer: Brian Robbins Date: 3/31/17 Notes: Four outfits bidding. Mid-six figures. First-timer.
22. Title: Fragment Logline: An Air Force jet breaks up over the desert. A mysterious radio beacon draws the pilot from the crash site. A discovery is waiting. And it is not of this Earth. Writers: Noah Griffith, Daniel Stewart Genre: Science Fiction Agency: CAA Management: The Gotham Group Buyer: Sony Pictures Date: 3/31/17 Notes: First-timers.
23. Title: Untitled Melissa Stack Project Logline: It’s an R-rated comedy in which an older woman goes on vacation with her much-younger boyfriend’s family. Writer: Melissa Stack Genre: Comedy Agency: Paradigm Management: Kaplan/Perrone Buyer: 20th Century Fox Date: 4/5/17. Notes: Mid-six figures, Stack attached to direct.
24. Title: All My Life Logline: Based on the story of Solomon Chau and Jennifer Carter, who were planning to be married on Aug. 21, 2015. Instead, that ended up being the day of Chau’s funeral. he couple, who had been planning their wedding since April 2014, found out that Chau had liver cancer in December that year. To make sure they got the wedding of their dreams, they moved the date up to April 11, 2015, and they raised more than $ 52,000 for the Toronto wedding through a GoFundMe account. They were married for four months before he died. Writer: Todd Rosenberg Genre: Drama Agency: Gersh Management: Kaplan/Perrone Buyer: Universal Pictures Date: 4/6/17.
25. Title: Princesses Logline: The film’s premise is likened to The Avengers, with all the classic princesses as the heroines. Writer: Nir Paniry Genre: Action Adventure Agency: Paradigm Management: Good-Fear Management Buyer: Pascal Productions, Greymatter Productions Date: 4/19/17. Notes: Six figure deal.
26. Title: The Prodigal Logline: A modern revenge tale of a soldier who returns to his hometown to solve the mystery of his estranged brother’s death. Writer: Luke Paradise, Genre: Action Drama Agency: Gersh Management: Industry Entertainment Buyer: Voltage Pictures, Chris Morgan Productions Date: 4/27/17.
27. Title: World Breaker Logline: In a not-too-distant future, Earth is under attack from creatures from an alternate world, bent on humanity’s destruction. A father hides his 14-year-old daughter on an island to avoid her conscription in the all-female army and escape the war, but nowhere is truly safe. Writer: Joshua Rollins Genre: Science Fiction Agency: Gersh Management: Affirmative Entertainment Buyer: Amasia Entertainment Date: 5/4/17.
28. Title: TheInfinity Reel Logline: A paranormal investigator is drawn to a small town that has gone through bizarre phenomena. These instances have an eerie connection with the investigator’s own past. Writer: Adam D’Alba Genre: Horror Agency: Gersh Management: Grandview Buyer: Paramount Pictures Date: 5/5/17.
29. Title: This is Jane Logline: A Chicago woman founds and maintains the underground abortion service “Jane,” a group of women who taught themselves how to perform abortions in the years before Roe V. Wade. Writer: Dan Loflin Genre: Historical Drama Agency: ESA Management: Heller Highwater Buyer: Amazon Studios Date: 5/6/17. Notes: Reported six-figure deal.
30. Title: Wendy and the Lost Logline: Wendy tries to help her son, Will, fit into the world. As he tries to find his place among his socialization group filled with oddball peers, Wendy realizes she needs to begin her own journey of making friends — and maybe even finding love. Writer: Carol Barbee Genre: Romantic Comedy Agency: WME Management: Hands In The Middle Management & Productions Buyer: Paulist Productions Date: 5/14/17. Notes: This is an option deal.
31. Title: The Best of Adam SharpLogline: A man (Adam) on the cusp of fifty is restless as his marriage has gone stale. He can’t quite forget a romance he had twenty years ago with an intelligent and strong-willed woman named Angelina Brown who taught him what it meant to find — and then lose — love. Out of the blue, he gets a one word email from Angelina. He responds and his life takes a significant turn. Writer: Graeme Simsion Genre: Romantic Drama Agency: ICM Partners Buyer: Vocab Films Date: 5/23/17. Notes: This is an option deal.
32. Title: Mother Logline: A female protagonist in a scenario reminiscent of The Professional and La Femme Nikita that has franchise potential. Writer: Misha Green Genre: Action Thriller Agency: CAA Buyer: Netflix Date: 6/4/17. Notes: Reported seven-figure deal.
33. Title: Linda and Monica Logline: Details the budding friendship between D.C. pals Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky that imploded when it led to the revelation of the scandalous relationship between the White House intern and President Bill Clinton. Writer: Flint Wainess Genre: Political Drama Agency: UTA Management: Kaplan/Perrone Buyer: Amazon Studios Date: 6/5/17. Notes: 2016 Black List script.
34. Title: Courage Logline: Described as being in the vein of Inception and Edge of Tomorrow. Writer: Karl Gajdusek Genre: Science Fiction Agency: Verve Management: Management 360 Buyer: 20th Century Fox Date: 6/27/17. Notes: Gajdusek is executive producer of the Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’.
In 2016, there were 36 spec script deals at the year’s midpoint, so the numbers are just about the same. Total deals last year: 75 which represented a 27% increase over 2015 which featured 55 deals.
Two Black List scripts set up: The Claim (2010) and Linda and Monica (2016). Also one reported deal involving a script discovered off the Black List website: Slayer.
Half of the Drama spec deals involved were Historical Dramas (5).
As someone who has tracked the spec market since 1991, it continues to amaze me how Drama is the #1 genre. For decades, the top three spec genres were typically Action, Comedy, and Thriller (in varying order per year). But in both 2015 and 2016, Drama topped the charts in terms of reported spec script deals. That trend looks to be continuing in 2017.
Which raises the question: Why? I think there are a few contributing factors.
The influence of reality TV: An entire generation has grown up with plenty of programming featuring ‘real life’ settings. Granted, much of reality TV is not actually real, situations scripted by so-called Consulting Producers, but that distinction doesn’t seem to bother audiences. If ‘real life’ stories have become a staple of their entertainment viewing, that may have an indirect impact on their interest in historically based dramas. Indeed the scripts which topped the Black List in 2015 (Bubbles) and 2016 (Blonde Ambition) both deal with icons who made strong impressions on younger audiences: Michael Jackson and Madonna. Linda and Monica would seem to be riding that same wave.
The rise of documentaries: With digital filmmaking lessening costs and streaming services like Netflix which have growing nonfiction playlists, there is a burgeoning documentary industry. Those tend to fall into the Drama category. Viewing interest in docs may not only translate into a desire to see more scripted Drama movies, but perhaps such limited TV series such as ‘The Night Of’ which feel like extended documentaries.
Franchise fatigue: Perhaps the rise of Drama spec script deals is also tied to studios reacting to a softening in the domestic market (at least) for big budget spectacle movies. Dramas offer a natural strategy for counter-programming and a chance to lure into theater the still sizeable 50+ year old crowd and especially Baby Boomers who have a proven affection for good dramatic fare.
In any event, if you like to write Drama and particularly Historical Drama, now could be a good time to flex your creative muscles.
Note: As I always say, tracking the spec script market is an inexact science. Since I launched the blog in 2008, I have only posted on reported deals or deals I can confirm through my contacts. Also I only include actual deals, not situations where a writer lands a manager like some other outfits do. My guess is they want to inflate the numbers to try to promote the idea the spec market is hotter than it really is in order to sell their services. I take a more conservative approach, noting as well, when I can confirm, when deals are options, not sales.
Still I believe it’s helpful information and does provide something of a snapshot of acquisition trends within the Hollywood development community.
If you have any observations about what you see in the deals detailed above, I welcome your comments.
“should budget be considered when you’re an unrepped writer workin on a spec? Or just best poss story?”
The easy thing is simply to say “Write the best story possible.” But screenplays are not just stories. They are movies. And movies cost money to produce. A studio’s production budget is pretty much a zero sum game, they only have so many dollars to go around, so it’s possible you could write a great story, but price yourself out of a deal because what you’ve written is too expensive.
In general, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to wear a producer’s hat along with your screenwriter’s hat, at least be aware of some elements that drive up the cost of a script. To wit:
If you are writing a mainstream, big budget movie, it is what it is, and so you’re probably less concerned with budget. But if you are writing a small indie film, perhaps something you want to direct or act in yourself, you absolutely have to be concerned with budgetary issues. Also you may come up with a contained thriller script like this one:
A down-on-her-luck woman stuck in her apartment must fend off waves of Yakuza assassins sent by her ex, who is a dangerous mob boss.
That recently sold as a spec and as I understand it, the entire movie will be shot in the woman’s apartment. One location. That right there saves a boatload of production dollars. Even major studios will take a bite at a low-budget script like that hoping to strike gold like Paramount did with Paranormal Activity.
So in general, the conventional wisdom still holds true: “Focus on writing the best story possible.” But don’t forget to don that producer’s hat from time to time and at least be cognizant of some pricey script elements. Depending on the project, where you are in your career, and what your goals are, you could benefit from taking into account budgetary concerns.
This is the last in the current round of GITS reader questions. I believe this has been the most questions at any given time (upward to 20). I keep thinking folks will run out of questions to ask, but evidently not.
I will open up another round in a month or so. In the meantime, if you have something you want my two cents on or you think might be a subject the GITS community would benefit from, please feel free to email me with your inquiry. And as always, you can check out the archives: GITS Reader Questions. I believe there over 200 Q&As in there at this point. That’s a lot of content. Worth checking out.
Or this: “How can you break screenwriting rules if there are none?”
I know all rules are made to be broken, but are there any Script rules that really shouldn’t?
I don’t think there are any rules for screenwriting. There are important principles, and dozens of tips and techniques. There is also a lot of ‘conventional wisdom’ floating around that gets transmogrified into being perceived as rules, and that is where the problem lies.
Stories are organic. Even in a screenplay, which is heavily structured by virtue of it being the blueprint for producing a movie, the underlying story — that universe, its characters, the events that transpire there — all have to feel alive, spontaneous, and native to that narrative environment.
Enter the plethora of screenwriting approaches, theories, paradigms, models, and formulas. While some of them reflect dynamics that are innate to story itself and what people expect when they read or see a story, once they get codified in the minds of writers, a big problem arises: The writer can write to the formula instead of to the story. Hence all the complaints from moviegoers about formulaic movies. And by the way, the complaint exists within Hollywood script development circles, too, as folks there often lament being forced to read one formulaic script after another.
Besides if you give me a supposed screenwriting rule, I am 99% positive I can come up with a movie that breaks it.
Movies have to be told with a linear narrative. Consider Memento, Pulp Fiction, or Betrayal.
Movies have to have a sympathetic Protagonist. Consider Sideways, As Good As It Gets, and Taxi Driver.
Movies always have to have a happy ending. Consider Citizen Kane, Shakespeare in Love, and Manon des Sources.
There are scripts where the screenwriter breaks the 4th wall and ‘talks’ to the script reader [The Last Boy Scout by Shane Black]. There are scripts that have sides of dialogue one page long or longer [Network by Paddy Chayefsky]. I remember reading a script by Justin Zackham [The Bucket List] that was in the 2nd person [“You turn on the light. You open the door.”]
Should we let ‘rules’ restrict our creativity? I should think not!
My advice: Learn the conventional wisdom, what is pretty much the standardized approach to screenwriting. It’s not hard to do, you can go virtually anywhere online and pick up the supposed ‘rules’ in a matter of a few months.
Then write. Experiment. Read scripts. Write some more. You are developing your own voice, your own style, gaining confidence in who you are as a writer.
Then if you develop a story that requires you to break a supposed ‘rule,’ absolutely will make for a better read if you go against convention, do it. You have to be smart, you have to be judicious, and you have to know what you’re doing. Most of all, you have to believe in yourself and in your story. But you should have the freedom to make those choices and dismiss the negative nabobs of negativism [homage to Spiro Agnew there].
That’s it, my only screenwriting semi-rule. As far as the other ‘rules’ go, you have to figure them out on your own, then become your own writer.
My advice: In all cases, story trumps formula, story trumps ‘rules,’ story trumps all.
In other words, the story rules.
What say ye, GITS readers? What’s your take on rules? Feel free to disagree with me. Maybe there are some rules that simply can’t be broken. If so, what would you say they are?
When you have a great idea for a screenplay it’s very tempting to rush to the computer and start writing. However, taking some time to think about a number of different ways you could tell the story may lead to a truly outstanding script rather than just a good one.
In a Fast Company series of successful authors’ tips on writing better stories, Terence Winter (creator, writer, and executive producer of the series, Boardwalk Empire) makes a great point about choosing the most interesting part of a story to tell:
“Every movie you’ve ever seen about Al Capone shows him at the height of his power, and sort of like Al Capone’s Greatest Hits. If you can only spend two hours with Al Capone, you want it to be when he’s at the top of his game.
On Boardwalk Empire, we meet Al Capone when he’s a kid driving a truck. That Al Capone is so much more interesting to me because we get to see him become the guy we know, and we had hours and hours to do it, and really see what formed him and what made this guy tick and that’s so much more a luxury as a storyteller and more satisfying for the audience.”
The series Gotham does something similar by looking at the formative years of the man who became Batman, and also by focusing on a character (Inspector Gordon) who has a supporting role in the later story.
Even for a screenplay there’s value in taking the time to brainstorm a number of ways of approaching the story before committing to one. For instance, a kidnapping story could be told with any of these as the viewpoint character:
* the victim
* the loved ones of the victim
* the detective investigating the case
* the kidnapper
* someone who is wrongly accused of the kidnapping
* someone who inadvertently or unwillingly gets involved in the crime
* a psychic (fake or genuine–if there is such a thing–who is asked to help locate the victim
* a previous victim of the kidnapper who realises she knows something that could help but is reluctant to relive the experience
As a film director, we may be very technically adept, have a great visual style or be skilled at soliciting a strong performance from our actors; we should aim to be all three. However, no matter where our key strengths lie, we need one thing first to be able to shine in those areas. We need to know our story inside and out.
A great screenplay functions on many levels and is far more than just a ‘blueprint’ for the film. The more we work with it and its creator, the more we will be able to know we are not only getting what we want but what an audience needs. Engagement.
In addition, our preparation time is not just about making decisions, its also about exploring possibilities. We will be working with other collaborators who will also have ideas of how to approach the different elements if the screenplay. It is in our best interest to be prepared for change and be able to communicate our ideas based on a through back to front insight into the story of the film.
1. Read For Pleasure – First Impressions
When you either are given a script to read or sit back to read through your own opus, there is one vitally important question to answer. ‘Does this excite me?’. Everything else will hang on your response to that.
In addition, our passion for the story often dictates how much others are prepared to do to help you bring the vision to the screen.
Our first read through should be like we are reading a novel, or short story, poem or comic book. There is a tendency to begin the analysis like we might have when we were asked to analyse a book or poem in high school or university or worse treat it like a manual or instruction book.
The harder it is for you to enjoy reading the script the harder it will be for your cast and crew to help you and ultimately for your audience to enjoy the results.
So have fun, the feeling you have by the end of that first read will often be the feeling you are left with when you watch the movie made from it.
2. More Detective Less Engineer.
To direct a screenplay well we have to really know the screenplay. Although we can view the script as a ‘blueprint’, my experience has shown me that there are many more layers and hidden treasures beneath the surface. The screenplay is not a precise plan for the film but a map showing the journey of the story and, as such, can offer optional routes to take on that journey.
As we progress through our early reads of the script, it helps to put on a deerstalker hat and look at it the way the great fictional detectives might as a puzzle and loaded with clues for its solution.
Our initial intuitions and images that pop into our head are valuable and should be recorded for later reference but we can dig much deeper. We should be looking first for possibilities of approach to the visual storytelling, performances, production design and use of sound etc.
Having a list of possibilities allows us to test them, then narrow it down to the best options. If we start with one choice only then we have, at best, made an assumption and not really made a decision at all. That to me seems a lot like gambling on a horse because it is a nice colour or you like it’s name.
3. Question Everything!
Also like a detective we should come away from each read not just with possible solutions but also with questions.
These questions we will use on our chief suspect. The writer. Often much is left off the page, by necessity or mistake and by questioning the source of the story we gain greater insight into the film it can become.
These questions also bring to light any weaknesses, glossed over motivations and overly repeated ideas that may exist, and allow a more focused development process to take place if needed. And it’s usually always needed.
As a writer/director this list of questions becomes invaluable when preparing to share our baby with others. We will have so much foreknowledge and acceptance of the world of the story and the motivations of out characters that we take it for granted is obvious on the script and to others understanding.
Be prepared to give clarity on any potential confusion by questioning the script as if someone else has written it.
As we progress, using questions with our other collaborators, especially actors, is often the easiest and most dynamic way to bring them around to our understanding of the story of the film.
4. Insight over Knowledge
A vital by product of both the passion to tell this story and the amount of digging deeper we do is that we move from a basic template knowledge of the ‘type’ of genre and style we are dealing with and get to see the unique qualities of the specific story we are telling. We start to experience the story. The world of the story becomes familiar and the characters move from being ‘plot vessels’ into dynamic layered individuals with their own codes of behavior.
By testing the possibilities and asking questions we gain something far more valuable, a deep grounded understanding of how the story should unfold, why the characters behave the way they do and how we might be able to engage our audience.
To ‘entertain’ is to hold our audience inside the world of the story, the more we can apply insight the better chance we have of preventing them from popping out for popcorn or checking their Facebook page and updating it with how bored they are whilst our film is running.
5. Listen to others.
As our other collaborators come on board, they will also have read the screenplay and have both ideas and questions for us as the director. I find it best to wherever possible let them speak first and share those ideas. I actively promote that by asking them to tell me the story, rather than start with how they might go about their roles in the process.
Listening with full attention and an open mind sets you in good stead to be both fully aware of the challenges you might face and also allows others to see that you value the contributions. We will need to do this from the beginning right through to the last moment in post- production in our edit, grade and mix.
Always allow yourself time to evaluate the options that arise. Put them to the test. The best way to handle a strong choice made by a fellow collaborator that seems to fly against your vision is to say “show me”. You then have the ability to see why and it will or will not work and direct accordingly.
These are just some of the key areas we will explore and expand upon in the upcoming Script Analysis For Directorscourse, the aim of which will be to give a practical and dynamic set of tools for getting the most from the screenplay, your other collaborators and yourself as the director.
It will also be of great benefit to writers and producers too.