Category Archives: movies

Good Boys: The New ‘Superbad’

A pro story analyst reviews the 2019 film Good Boys.

Good Boys is the latest comedy from director Gene Stupnitsky and writer Lee Eisenberg, both known for their work as producers on The Office. Presenting a new take on the teen coming-of-age story, Good Boys is positioned to become the new Superbad for a younger generation.

So, how does Good Boys stack up in terms of storytelling?

Where Good Boys does well:

Concept Execution

Good Boys absolutely nails the challenges, priorities, desires and perceived obstacles of the age group, as well as the ignorance of youth. It’s a coming-of-age story, but in a different way than a teen-to-adult coming-of-age premise. Just like a teenager learning some of the hard lessons of growing into adulthood, Good Boys dials the age back one step to show grade school-aged “kids” learning the hard lessons of growing into tweens and pre-teens. Along the way, they learn the realities of childhood, individuality and growing up.

Emotional Content and Theme

When it comes to digging out the potential heartfelt emotional content inherent in the concept and surfacing those ideas to the audience, Good Boys hits a home run. Few coming-of-age comedies that rely so heavily on gross-out antics dare to go so deep.

Tapping into Topical Sentiments

Good Boys ties in many darker modern social trends in a way that delivers funny social commentary. The film’s portrayal of bullying, child predators, “CPR” dolls (read: Real Girl Dolls), respect for women, fluid sexuality and male emotional bonds is always double-pronged, illustrating simultaneous viewpoints of childlike innocence and adult reality through the lens of humor.

Where could Good Boys have done better?

Good Boys is by no means a perfect movie. One of the areas it struggled with is…

Transitions Between Beats

While not necessarily the fault of the actors, it’s more likely that writing and editing are to blame here. Jumping off from the resolution of one beat and abruptly onto the next in the middle of a scene may require more creative grace than Good Boys can muster at times.

Quick pacing and vibrant dialogue help gloss over the fact, to be sure, but cannot cover up those blocky transitions.

Conviction in the Acting

Pinning the success of a feature-length major motion picture on the performance of young actors requires exceptional chops from its stars. Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith Williams perform with a surprising emotional range and conviction – and they absolutely deserve recognition for it. But sometimes the conviction isn’t completely there, making for more than a few hollow line deliveries. Again, expecting young actors to carry such a colossal undertaking is asking a lot, even for an especially talented actor like Tremblay.

The stars shine, but they aren’t able to make every moment count.

Conflicting Subject Matter vs. Target Audience

One of the major challenges of a movie like this is that, despite its seemingly broad appeal, it’s focus on issues of a young age group conflicts with its R-rating and obvious adult targeting. Although not a deal-breaker for the film, other lower-quality films have hit a brick wall in terms of box office success for the same reason. The Golden Compass comes to mind.

Rating aside, the film stands on its own.


While Good Boys isn’t likely to win an Oscar and it’s gross-out humor may be off-putting to some, this film is a prime candidate for under-appreciation – and potentially future ‘cult’ status. Although it may not be exactly this reviewer’s cup of tea, Good Boys offers a unique take on the classic teen coming-of-age story that’s bound to make its mark in comedy film history.

Rating: 4 / 5

Featured image photo by Noom Peerapong on Unsplash.

10 Westerns to Watch Before You Die

If you watch movies, then you’ve probably seen (or heard of) the western, one of the most iconic genres of the Hollywood film industry.

Maybe you love them. Maybe you’ve seen one subpar western movie and thought “meh.”

I hated them…until I watched the right westerns.

The goal of this article is not to re-hash the “best western films ever” that have been written about and recycled endlessly. (You can find any number of these lists on IMDB.com.) Rather, these are 10 of the westerns that changed my outlook on the genre.

Everyone of these westerns is worth watching before you kick the bucket, or if you’re simply seeking to expand your film education, or if you are planning to write one yourself.

But enough about me. Let’s dig in…

10. The Magnificent Seven

John Sturges | 1960 | Runtime: 2h 8m | IMDB: 7.8 | Metascore: 74

Mexican peasants recruit seven gunfighters to defend their village from a band of vicious banditos in this classic, iconic western. Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson star in this western adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, delivering action, grit and drama on the American frontier while accompanied by Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated score.

If you like this, also watch: The Magnificent Seven (2016), The Professionals, Rio Bravo, Silverado, Vera Cruz, Young Guns

9. 3:10 to Yuma

James Mangold | 2007 | Runtime: 2h 2m | IMDB: 7.7 | Metascore: 76

If you’re looking for something a little more modern, this film is it. Starring Russell Crow and Christian Bale, 3:10 to Yuma has it all: nail-biting action, big set pieces, great acting, iconic roles—all without sacrificing quality characters. Considered to be one of the great westerns of the 21st century, this remake of the Glenn Ford classic tells the story of a destitute war veteran-turned-rancher escorting a wily outlaw to the 3:10 train to Yuma. Nominated for two Oscars.

If you like this, also watch: 3:10 to Yuma (1957), High Noon, Open Range, Rio Grande, Stagecoach, Tombstone, Winchester ‘73

8. Shane

George Stevens | 1953 | Runtime: 1h 58m | IMDB: 7.7 | Metascore: 80

Alan Ladd stars in this small tale about a mysterious gunfighter who defends his newfound friends from a vicious frontiersman and his band of violent cronies. A departure from earlier westerns, this Oscar-winning film forgoes blood-pumping action sequences in favor of a slow boil that delivers a cathartic payoff and several iconic scenes. Particularly memorable are its breathtaking landscapes that underscore a previously-overlooked story: the struggle of the second wave of pioneers against the frontier’s first settlers.

If you like this, also watch: The Big Country, The Great Silence, Johnny Guitar, Open Range, Pale Rider, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Shenandoah, Unforgiven

7. Broken Arrow

Delmer Daves | 1950 | IMDB: 7.2 | Metascore: N/A (External only)

Let’s start by making clear that we are referring to the 1950 film starring Jimmy Stewart, not the 1996 flick starring John Travolta or the 1950s TV series of the same name.

What makes Broken Arrow stand out is not its three Oscar nominations, but its unusually progressive approach to “cowboys and Indians.” Unlike the typical western that focuses on the struggle of white hats vs black hats or cowboys vs Indians, Stewart’s characters seeks to bring the two sides together in peace—but at great personal cost. Although Broken Arrow is perhaps the first big Hollywood blockbuster to depict indigenous Americans as sympathetic and fully human, the movie industry still had a long way to go in how they express “minorities” (read: non-white folks). They still do.

But, then again, Hollywood has a pretty dicey history when it comes to racial and gender equality, even though the majority of industry professionals are strongly pro-equality. (It remains a sad fact that Hollywood’s biggest influencers are still a bunch of rich white guys.)

If you like this, also watch: Dances with Wolves, The Far Country, Giant, The Man from Laramie, Legends of the Fall, Little Big Man, The Naked Spur

6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

George Roy Hill | 1969 | Runtime: 1h 50m | IMDB: 8.1 | Metascore: 66

Hollywood legends Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in this classic by screenwriting great William Goldman about two outlaws who haven’t changed with the times—and pay the ultimate price. Not only does this classic film boast four Oscars to its name, IMDB also lists Butch Cassidy in its Top 250 films of all time.

Westerns set after the end of the American Civil War (1865) tend to express themes of changing times, technology versus human effort, and old-fashioned heroes struggling to adapt to the new status quo. Accolades aside, Butch Cassidy sits at the pinnacle of this theme. Times have indeed changed since the Civil War ended. Now, the traditional “wild west” has evolved into a strange world populated by technology and civilization, leaving the old cowboys in the dust.

If you like this, also watch: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Last Train from Gun Hill, My Darling Clementine, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Wild Bunch

5. The Gunfighter

Henry King | 1950 | IMDB: 7.7 | Metascore: 94

All too often overlooked but an absolute gem, this black and white film starring Gregory Peck focuses on the plight of the gunfighter who has reached his peak, but then finds himself unable to escape his reputation. In some ways, The Gunfighter demonstrates attributes of an anti-western without fully shedding its western skin. It’s a slower, tragic character piece that illuminates a neglected aspect of the western, the gunfighter as a human being, while revealing the emotion, wisdom and ignorance that so often is left out of more traditional western flicks. Thoughtful and introspective, the cast carries the show with aplomb and magnetism, carefully circumventing devolution into a mindless shooter.

If you are a serious cinephile, then be sure to put this notch in your belt. It will stick with you.

If you like this, also watch: The Bravados, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Shootist, Yellow Sky

4.  The Searchers

John Ford | 1956 | Runtime: 1h 59m | IMDB: 8.0 | Metascore: 94

Like The Gunfighter, this under-appreciated masterpiece will burn itself into your memory. The Searchers is nothing less than John Ford at his best. John Wayne at his most John Wayne-ness. The high point part of every western crammed into 118 minutes—although it seems much longer.

That said, The Searchers tells the story of two men who set out to find their captured niece/sister after their family is murdered by a Comanche warband. The thing is, it takes them half a decade to find her, enduring hardship and personal sacrifice along the way. Lighter comedic moments counter-balance the heavy drama. Expect to laugh, cry, and cheer.

If you like this, also watch: El Dorado, Fort Apache, Jeremiah Johnson, Nevada Smith, Red River, Ride the High Country, Rio Lobo

3. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino | 2012 | Runtime: 2h 45m | IMDB: 8.4 | Metascore: 81

Moving forward in time to modern cinema, Tarantino’s provocative film is not so much a “western” in the orthodox sense as it is a self-described “southern.” In terms of genre, Django Unchained still fits the bill for the “western” genre.

Django tells the story of a freed slave who pairs up with an itinerant German Jew to rescue his love from a charming but sociopathic plantation owner. With an all-star cast that includes Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, and Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained is one of Tarantino’s greatest. Viewers can expect the trademark Tarantino contrast of meticulous patience and brutal violence. By roping in a host of alluring minority characters, the movie doesn’t hold back on its tacit (sometimes blatant) criticism of the Old South.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking Django is just a revisionist apology for slavery. The film is much more than that—and nothing short of an enthralling ride from start to finish.

If you like this, also watch: Duck, You Sucker, The Hateful Eight, Hell or High Water, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Revenant

2. True Grit

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen | 2010 | Runtime: 1h 50m | IMDB: 7.6 | Metascore: 80

Underrated and understated, the 2010 remake of True Grit is a small story that delivers 110%. Jeff Bridges stars as Rooster Cogburn, a hardened, gritty man who reveals his inner soft side while protecting a young girl with a powerhouse personality (played by Hailee Steinfeld). As far as remakes go, this 2010 version leaves its 1969 predecessor in the frontier dust.

While the Coen brothers’ storytelling far outstrips that of the original, Jeff Bridges delivers some of his best work. In comparison, John Wayne’s performance in the previous True Grit is, well, not great. The newer True Grit remains a personal favorite of mine for its understated delivery and eloquent filmmaking.

But don’t take my word for it—True Grit was nominated for 10 Oscars, after all. Less than 100 films in the Academy’s cinema history can claim as much.

If you like this, also watch: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Big Gundown, Dead Man, True Grit (1969)

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Also known as: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo | Sergio Leone | 1967 | Runtime: 2h 58m | IMDB: 8.8 | Metascore: 90

If you only ever watch one western in your life, this is the movie to watch. The most famous Spaghetti Western of all time, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo stars Clint Eastwood as the lead, Tonino Delli Colli’s breathtaking cinematography, and Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone’s timeless soundtrack. A three-way triad of conflict drives the story as a “good” character teams up with a “bad” and an “ugly” (read: chaotic neutral) character to uncover buried gold, all the while trying to outwit, kill or imprison each other along the way.

The result?

Nearly every visual and soundtrack stereotype pop culture associates with the western genre comes from this film. Three-way Mexican standoff? Check. Frenetic classical guitar music and blaring trumpets? Yup. Clint Eastwood? Double check. Stony-faced men of few words? Triple check.

IMDB.com ranks The GB&U as the top western and #9 in its 250 Top Rated Movies—to which Once Upon a Time in the West (another Sergio Leone film) is a distant second at slot #37.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has to be #1 on this list not just because it’s an outstanding cinema masterpiece, but because it has inspired filmmakers, writers, actors, cinematographers, composers and wannabe cowboys for decades since. In many ways, The GB&U is unofficially considered the ultimate expression of the western as a movie genre.

If you like this, also watch: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, High Plains Drifter, Once Upon a Time in the West

Honorable Mentions

Clearly, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Many gems did make the cut—not because I dislike them or find them lacking aesthetic value. Rather, I tried to stay focused on 10 stand-out works of cinematic art that not everyone may have seen.

I did not include any comedies in the aforementioned list. If you are interested in comedy-westerns, start with films like Blazing Saddles, Three Amigos!, My Name is Nobody, and (if you’re brave enough) Wild Wild West (1999).

If you want to explore film that goes against everything the western genre is and stands for, then watch No Country for Old Men, an unofficial anti-western in the most extreme and bitter sense. Warning: As with any anti-genre, if you like the genre itself, anti-genre may make you uncomfortable. If you want to start with something milder, try a Revisionist Western.

And lastly, I did not include any of the TV show westerns that litter the history of the small screen, like Lonesome Dove, Bonanza, and Deadwood, to name a few.

If you are interested in exploring other gems in the western genre, several IMDB users have put together helpful lists of top westerns to watch. I found this list particularly useful.

Thinking about writing your own western? Or looking for help on the next draft? I’m happy to help.

Why Big Budget Spec Scripts Don’t Sell

When I first decided I wanted to become a filmmaker more than 30 years ago, the Hollywood spec market was not the same as it is today. Back then, a starry-eyed screenwriter could write a big action flick and pray it got picked up and made into the next big summer blockbuster.

In today’s spec script market, that is no longer the case. In fact, it hasn’t been the case for many years. It’s not that a big budget script written on spec will never sell, simply that it probably won’t. Optimistically, chances are pretty slim.

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels (Twitter: Moose_photos)

What follows is not so much a warning to avoid writing big budget spec scripts. But rather, a quick rundown to provide you with a basic understanding of why that big budget script you wrote on spec probably won’t find a buyer and what you can do about it.

The Problem with Big Budget Spec Scripts

In the world of film and spec screenplays, nobody wants to take on an expensive movie project that isn’t based on an existing IP (intellectual property). An example of a movie based on an existing IP is the incredibly popular Avengers film series, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Yes, the outcome is lucrative, but they are also insanely expensive to make. If we assume the tried-and-true formula that the cost to market one of these films is equivalent to the cost of making the movie, then Avengers: Infinity War looks something like this:

Budget: $321M (est.) x 2 (marketing/promotions) =

$642M (total cost to make)

And that’s before the studio breaks even.

MCU movies have a higher guarantee of making their money back because they have decades of movies, comics, games, merchandise and an adoring fandom to tap into.

By comparison, your script has none of these things. Now you may be starting to see the other side of the coin.

Your Script as Viewed by Executives

When we look at spec scripts from the perspective of producers and studio executives (“execs”), here’s what they see:

  • A risky financial liability
  • A story that isn’t marketable enough (aka, not appealing to a broad enough audience to make its money back)
  • A potential flop that could tank their career

Keep in mind that these studio folks are responsible to investors and their organization to make money. A financial loss can result in getting fired and/or loss of reputation that could take years to rebuild, if ever. Historically, two or three box office failures in a row can bankrupt a movie studio completely. In many cases, it only takes only one high-budget gamble to put the studio out of business.

Therefore, when a producer or exec looks at your script that isn’t based on an existing IP, they are thinking that there is no guarantee that:

  1. Audiences will go to see the movie
  2. The movie will be any good
  3. It will be able to make its money back, even if #1 and #2 are true (many cult classics were box office failures, while many forgettable films were financially successful at the time)

To execs, licensed material based on an existing IP means security and a higher-than-normal possibility of a return on investment.

This may sound like a way to weed out newcomers to film. While it certainly has that effect, it really just comes down to the bottom line. A financial success means they get to keep making movies, gain prestige, and possibly even a get a promotion—professional aspirations anyone can understand, even if they despise the system. (Don’t hate the player; hate the game. Right?)

Why People Write Big Budget Scripts on Spec

Truth be told, writing big budget movies that inundate the screen with jaw-dropping spectacle never before absorbed by human eyes is a large part of why many screenwriters go into the biz. Writing a novel just doesn’t seem to have the same effect on the senses. In my experience of writing fiction, poetry, plays and games, nothing compares to the exhilaration of writing a chest-thumping action sequence for the big screen.

But if writing a big budget script on spec is such a foolhardy endeavor, why do it at all?

If you haven’t embarked on this insane journey already, my professional suggestion is a strong and firm don’t. Practically speaking, it’s a waste of everybody’s time, especially yours.

Being a stubborn writer myself, I ignored my own advice and wrote one anyway. Actually, not one—but two.

The Good News About Your Big Budget Script

If you have shared the big budget spec script journey with me, then fear not. There is a path forward. Sure, you will be fighting an uphill battle to get your script out there, but your screenplay doesn’t have to go to waste. You still have options.

Here’s the good news:

  • Writing a big budget script is a priceless learning experience that will help you grow as a screenwriter.
  • You’ve proven to the world (and yourself) that you can complete a challenging feature length script.
  • You can still use your script (or selections from it) as a writing sample, building up your portfolio.
  • Your creative story can be adapted into a novel, comic or game, where it’s chances of success are higher.
  • Have you considered using your script as the basis for a short film?
  • It’s fun as hell.

See? All is not lost. You haven’t written yourself into a corner.

But next time, maybe leave the big budget spec idea at home. (Unless you’re stubborn, like me.)

 

Need help with your next idea? Reach out!

Adapting Your Screenplay to Novel: Turning Your Script into a Book

So you’ve recently completed this amazing big budget blockbuster screenplay . Now you want to make something happen with it. The problem is: No one is biting.

Why?

Because big budget spec scripts don’t sell. (You can read more about that in my previous article.)

Maybe your best next step is to consider adapting your screenplay into a novel. Although this is the reverse of how the process usually works (books adapted into movies are more common), that doesn’t mean this road is any less viable. In fact, adapting your completed screenplay into a book should be a go-to course of action if your screenplay is still gathering dust after a year or two.

Recently, I decided to take a big budget fantasy script that was a pet project of mine and transform it into something marketable. That meant tossing aside the idea that this script would be sold on spec (it wouldn’t) and taking a more realistic approach: Turning my screenplay into a novel.

Having embarked on this new experience, I can now offer some helpful advice on what to expect when you adapt your spec script into a book.

If you haven’t dusted off that old screenplay lately, maybe it’s time to turn it into a book!

Why Adapting Your Screenplay Into a Novel is a GREAT IDEA

1. It’s far easier to get a book published than to get a screenplay made. And lastly, a successful novel will help build the IP required to support that big budget sci-fi/fantasy/superhero spec script you wrote.

2. You already know the characters, story and world. Much of the hard work is already done. Writing the novel will also help deepen your understanding of each of these elements, in turn making the script even better (assuming you update it).

3. Simply put: It’s fun! So much more fun than I can put into words. The rush of writing those big visuals as they splash and evolve across the screen is simply indescribable. Why not enjoy what you love doing most?

CHALLENGES TO EXPECT

1. You Can’t Just Paste a Screenplay and Expect a Novel to Happen.

I cannot understate this point. Movies and book simply aren’t the same. This may seem obvious at first, but the differences are deeper and truer than even most professional realize. They handle storytelling in different ways. For you, this means you can’t just copy and paste your script into prose format. You will have to invest time in writing the book for the medium.

J.R.R. Tolkien once stated that his genre-defining epic The Lord of the Rings could not be filmed for this very reason. The effort to successfully adapt the series to screen required monumental effort by Peter Jackson and his many, many teams of moviemakers.

Cut-and-paste didn’t work going from book-to-screen, so it won’t work in reverse, either.

2. Not Everything Translates from Screen to Page.

Certain storytelling constructs will require additional effort to make them work. For example:

  • Novels reveal the internal monologue / film does not
  • Action thrives on screen / requires more work in prose
  • Screenplays are leaner, less forgiving / books have more freedom to explore
  • Novels are longer, so can have wider variance in structure / script structure is fairly rigid

3. You Will Have GapsBig Ones.

Whereas a screenplay has the magical effect of stimulating the imagination with minimal words on the page, and a movie has the luxury of using dedicated specialists to realize design for costumes, sets and atmosphere, a novel must do most of this for itself. For example, characters will require more description to capture the reader’s imagination.

Likewise, objects, sensations, visuals, impressions and feelings will take a little more exploration to make the same impact. Things you wouldn’t normally have to mention in a screenplay (because their presence is implied by the location, for example) often demand a mention to help set the scene as well.

Writers like J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien demonstrate a remarkable gift for writing minimal description to communicate their ideas. Storytellers like Herman Melville prefer to wax poetic for pages (even chapters) at a time about the virtues of a painting. Most of us lie somewhere in between.

Either way, be prepared to put some extra time into fleshing out the character gaps, locations, and the thoughts and sensory interpretations of the character, possibly even the narrator (if applicable). It helps to think of your screenplay as an annotated outline for your book.

4. Writing the Book Version Will Make You Want to Rewrite Your Spec Script.

Simply throwing a rough draft of your book onto the page will give you the opportunity to dive deeper into your characters and story world than you would have previously. I found it helpful to push myself through the end of a completed rough draft of the novel before taking a step back to reassess how my new discoveries might impact the next draft of the original spec script.

In case you’re wondering: Yes, I did simultaneously rewrite the script and the book. And yes, it was hair-pullingly difficult. In the end, both story forms benefited greatly from the process and I have no regrets.

(NOTE: Don’t feel obligated to rewrite your scriptnot at first, anyway. You can still use it as-is for a writing sample. Rewriting your script may not be worth the effort.)

5. Screenwriting is More Fun, but Novel Writing is More Fulfilling.

This isn’t so much a challenge as a forewarning. Nothing beats the rush of writing a screenplay, especially when you are wrapped up in the intensity and immediacy of the moment. Compared such an amazing experience, writing a novel can feel a little bit like a letdown. Not that it’s bad—because it isn’t—but in many ways, it takes longer in a book to cover the same ground as in your screenplay. That can be frustrating.

Still, in the end, writing a novel gives you so much more freedom to express yourself and explore the characters, voices and world than you get in the restrictive screenplay format. Because of this, creating a novel can be more fulfilling in the end. Even screenwriting great William Goldman recommended writing something other than screenplays on the side.

I still love my spec screenplay (it was a vanity project, after all), but I’m even more proud of the book that came out of it. Additionally, the novel version also has a dramatically higher likelihood of being read by other people than my spec script.

And let’s face it, there’s nothing like sharing your story with the world.

What was your experience? We would love to know.

So You Wrote a Big Budget Sci-fi/Fantasy Script. Now what?

Recently, I put the finishing touches on the second draft of a big budget fantasy feature screenplay. I wrote it both for fun and as a portfolio piece, knowing full well that a script like this would never get made. Even though it probably wasn’t the best use of my time, I still put more time, passion and meticulous care into this manuscript than I care to admit right now. (Hint: It was a lot.)

Curious for input from other Hollywood industry pros, I sent the script out for feedback. If you’ve ever written an original big budget spec script, then you probably have gone through what I experienced next. While the feedback was positive, these pros all told me the same thing: No one will ever want to buy this, no matter how good it is.

So, you’ve written a big budget sci-fi, fantasy, superhero or action script on spec and no one in Hollywood wants to bite. You’re probably asking yourself: What do I do now?

Now that you have a big budget spec script on your hands, what do you do with it?

The short answer: Don’t toss it. Your script still has value.

The longer answer is, well, a bit longer. Let me explain.

Having a completed, polished screenplay under your belt will always be a feather in your cap whether you sell it or not. What you do with it next, however, is the big question.

First, let’s be clear and up front about expectations:

  • A big budget script is very hard to sell in Hollywood.
  • A big budget sci-fi/fantasy/superhero script not based on an existing IP (intellectual property, such as Lord of the Rings or Marvel) is even harder to sell.
  • A big budget script based on an IP you do not own or have rights to will not sell in Hollywood (because it’s IP/trademark infringement).
  • Your big budget script probably isn’t going to be made into a movie.

In short, your big budget genre movie is next to impossible to sell (let alone get made) in Hollywood. That may sound harsh, but understanding the reality you are up against is crucial to knowing where you shouldn’t be focusing your efforts. Instead, we’re going to take practical steps to make the most of that awesome script of yours.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at your path forward. You essentially have two choices:

  1. Use your script as a writing sample.
  2. Adapt your script into a novel.

1. As a Writing Sample

If you are like me, writing sci-fi/fantasy is your jam, meaning when you write in that milieu, you are at your best (replace with superhero, action, etc.). Pick out a few choice selections from your script and use these to promote your ability, professionalism and creativity when auditioning for new writing projects.

You probably won’t jump to working on big budget projects directly from a spec script, especially if you are still new to the business, but it can be the linchpin that opens a doorway that eventually leads to that prized assignment.

Besides, while you are using your incredibly cool script as a staple portfolio piece, you can simultaneously be pursuing option #2:

2. Adapting Your Screenplay into a Novel

Converting your spec screenplay into a novel is perhaps your best route to getting that story onto the big screen (yes, you read that correctly). In fact, you can even do this and #1 simultaneously.

If your book is successful, then the powers that be will be much more keen to turn your book into a movie. Now you’re back where you started—except this time you have the backing of an existing IP.

However, I should err on the side of caution in saying that there are no guarantees here. All of this hinges on the fact that you can:

  1. Complete a novel,
  2. Get it published, and
  3. Reach a wide enough audience with a strong enough impact that your novel is considered successful enough for adaptation to the screen.

It doesn’t have to be a novel, either. Video games and comic books are viable options as well. In fact, your superhero script may be more suited to one of these genres than a novel.

Regardless of the route you take, embarking on this journey is certainly a far better strategy than sitting on a perfectly good, superbly awesome story that the world would otherwise never get to experience.

Better to share than to hoard in secret. (Yes, you can quote that).

So now that you’ve written a big budget sci-fi, fantasy, superhero or action script on spec and nobody in Hollywood wants to bite, maybe all your story needs is a new medium to make it big.

Time to get writing.

So You’re Going to a Pitchfest

So you’ve decided to go to a pitch festival (aka “pitchfest“) for writers.

That’s amazing.

But before you go, there are a few things you should know.

In my most recent Hollywood pitchfest experience, I was surprised at how many participants were woefully underprepared. Considering the amount of resources and time it must have taken for many of these people to travel to Los Angeles for the pitchfest, this hit me hard.

In fact, I found myself doling out advice to many participants who seemed to have little or no idea how to prepare for their pitches, let alone a two-day marathon—a pitchfest, if you will.

So I’m going to pass on some of that advice to you to help you make the most of your own pitchfest experience. While this advice is specific to going to a pitchfest, it also applies (mostly) to virtual pitchfests or anyone pitching a story to an industry professional—movies, TV, books, scripted, unscripted, pitchfest or pitch meeting.

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Know Your Story

Start by learning your story inside and out. It may have been awhile since you dusted off that script or pitch. Over time it’s easy to forget important details—especially when you’re put on the spot.

One-sheets

Be sure to write, polish and print out a one-sheet to give to every person or team you pitch to. A one-sheet is essentially your pitch, synopsis and contact info put into writing on—you guess it—one sheet of paper. You can read more about the one-sheet here.

Business Cards

Have these at the ready for networking purposes. You never know who you are going to meet or where that relationship will take you in the future, even among the fellow pitchfest attendees.

NOTE: Business card finishes are not all created equal. For instance, while glossy business cards may look spectacular, matte business cards are far easier to write on with any type of pen, and thus, they are more useful.

2. Do Your Homework

You don’t want to waste time pitching to someone who isn’t interested in your type of project. That’s not a good use of anyone’s time. Instead, do your research first:

  • Find and pitch to companies who are interested in your type of project, format or genre. Don’t just guess, check out their websites and IMDB.
  • Research how similar, successful projects in the same genre/format been pitched in the past. IMDB and Box Office Mojo are your friends here.
  • Try crafting a “hook” into your pitch that dials into that company’s mission statement or core focus. Remember looking up the company website? That’s where you should look.
  • Don’t stop refining your pitch! Use nonverbal responses you receive from each detail of your pitch to improve or alter your next pitch. (I once derailed an entire pitch because I mistakenly used the word “shenanigans” instead of “petty squabbling” in my opening statement. Needless to say, I never used that word again after that.)

3. Dress Respectably

This should go without saying, but it still needs to be said. Groom yourself, dress professionally, smell nice and grab a breath mint or two. This doesn’t mean you have to dress up like you are going to fancy dinner (don’t do that, btw), but simply that you want to show the professionals you are pitching to that you respect their time, you respect the process, and that you put conscious time and effort into what you do.

In short: you don’t want to be “that guy” or “that lady” that executives dread.

4. Don’t Be Robotic

I know it can be very challenging pitching to strangers. You’re taking this beautiful, highly personal story that’s trapped in your head and trying to explain it in a way that doesn’t sound completely ridiculous or insane to someone who could potentially change your life forever.

No biggie.

When you pitch as a writer, you aren't just trying to sell your story, you are trying to sell these executives on the idea of 'you.'

However, if you want the best possible chance at selling your story at a pitchfest, it’s critical to be enthusiastic, friendly, emotive and passionate when conducting your pitch—all while pretending you are acting natural. That’s why practicing your pitch is so essential to great delivery. Even if you’ve pitched your story a thousand times, it’s important to keep your energy up like it’s the very first time. You want to show your pitch recipients that you love your story.

That means DO NOT:

  • Use monotone voice like you are reciting verbatim from memory (even if you are);
  • Avoid eye contact, greetings or human interaction (even if you want to);
  • Read from a notecard or prompt sheet (just don’t).

Which leads us to our next point…

5. Sell Yourself

When you pitch, you aren’t just selling your story, you’re selling yourself. On more than one occasion, it is the personality and enthusiasm of the pitcher that sells the company on their project—or, at the very least, enabled that storyteller to move onto the next stage of their relationship with that company.

I know this can be especially challenging for many writers who are introverts and socially shy or awkward. Well, this is where you learn to grow.

Need help? Try taking a public speaking class, practicing your pitch to your friends, or even signing up to take a workshop on pitching. Also be sure to check out Good in a Room on pitching a feature film, TV show, or unscripted reality show.

6. Lead the Conversation

Remember that when you go in to deliver your pitch, it’s you in the spotlight, not the individuals you’re pitching to. This is an important distinction because many writers open their pitch like this: “I have ten scripts. What do you want to hear?” If the executives knew, they wouldn’t be at the pitchfest! Besides, it’s a weak way to open that not only reduces their confidence in your storytelling abilities, but also hurts your ability to “sell yourself” (see #5, above).

Instead, jump right into your pitch with confidence and gusto. Afterward, be sure to be proactive in providing a one-sheet and asking for contact information, such as a business card.

7. Concept First, Details After

Don’t make the mistake of diving into the details of your story without getting a crystal clear concept out of the way first. This is essential. When giving your pitch to a complete stranger (who knows nothing about your story yet), start by giving them the big picture. Once they’ve locked that down, then move into more detail from there. If you can’t give the audience a grasp on what the overall idea of the story is, the details may come across as an incomprehensible mess.

Besides, having a concept that absolutely kills may be enough to sell your story, meaning weaknesses in the execution may be more easily overlooked.

8. Have a Backup, or Two, or Three

There’s nothing worse than having your pitch shot down right at the get-go. This happened to me and my pitching partner on our very first pitch on the very first day of the fest. A quick “I’m not interested in that” made our blood run cold. Fortunately, we had prepared a handful of backup pitches as well. Not only did these backups salvage the pitch session, but we received a read request for both of the alternatives we pitched.

The moral of the story? Come prepared with a backup…or two…or three.

9. Network, Make Friends

Remember those business cards we had you make all the way back in #1? Well, here’s where you use them.

Networking with other writers and storytellers at a pitch festival is a way to open doors for future relationships and collaboration.

Networking with fellow writers and storytellers should be one of your primary objectives when you go to a pitchfest. For many writers I spoke to at the Fade In Hollywood Pitch Festival, many hadn’t even thought of this. However, several writers like me and my pitch partner had quite a bit of downtime, so we devoted that time to networking and building future relationships.

Besides the obvious benefit of building your professional network, there are a few other not-so-obvious benefits to making nice with your fellow participants. For one, sharing valuable pitching techniques, nuances and experiences can help you and your new contacts pitch more effectively.

Also, one of your new friends may be scheduled to be pitch to the same company as you at an earlier time, meaning they can offer valuable insight into how to target your pitch. For my own experience, this influenced how my pitching partner and I customized our pitch to the company, resulting in a read request for our script.

10. Get in the Right Mental Space

This is a frequently overlooked aspect of preparing for a pitchfest. Putting yourself in the right frame of mind to accomplish your goals, absorb feedback, and process events that are happening faster than you can say “pitch festival” is important to getting what you want out of the whole process.

Don’t Pin Your Future on the Pitchfest

Maybe you’ll sell your story, maybe you won’t. Just as nailing your pitch won’t necessarily lead to sale, bombing a pitch (and it happens) doesn’t mean your dreams are forever shattered. Either way, your life isn’t over. You will have good pitches and you will have bad pitches. The important thing is to do your homework, deliver your best, and if you don’t sell anything this year, try again next year.

Set Reasonable Goals

Go into the pitchfest with a purpose. That is, don’t aim to sell your story because you probably won’t. Instead, aim to get read requests. Getting one of these busy professionals to read your story is the biggest hurdle. And even if they don’t like your story, they may like the cut of your jib. In that way, it’s important to think of these pitches as not necessarily a way to sell your project right then and there, but rather as opening a door to a relationship that could potentially result in a sale later on down the road.

It’s Not Always You

Not all pitchfest attendees will be interested in your project. This isn’t necessarily your fault. Some people are “checked out” before you ever get face-to-face them. Often, they may not be in the market for what you are selling or are simply a filling in as a warm body. It sucks, but it happens. And it’s not always because of you.


Hopefully, these tips on maximizing your experience at a pitchfest will help you feel more confident and prepared for the upcoming extravaganza. Pitching is hard. Talking to strangers is hard. Pitching to strangers is even harder. But with practice, preparation, and a little bit of luck, maybe your pitch will be the one that sells.

If you want to read about the pitchfest experience from the other side of the table, check out Manny Fonseca’s article here.

Break a leg, pitchfester!

Have any additional pointers you’d like to share? We’d love to hear ‘em.

Capote, a film by Bennett Miller

Austere, brilliantly-acted, and full of contrast

The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman once again demonstrates his acting mastery in this biopic about Truman Capote during the writing of his non-fiction book, In Cold Blood—the book that defined Capote’s career. In fact, Hoffman brings the character so much to life that one can’t help but feel that he is more “Capote” than Capote himself.

But existential debate aside, Hoffman fills the role naturally and without artificial affect as he portrays a character unlike any other in his repertoire. It paid off: Hoffman won an Oscar for his performance.movie poster for philip seymour hoffman's masterfully acted movie Capote

The idea of “In Cold Blood” permeates Capote as it progresses in a reserved but naturalistic and non-distractedly spare manner with patient, steady pacing. A heavily restrained earth-tone color palette paints a stark picture supported by a similarly spare soundtrack that is at times cool and unmelodious, at other times contrasting with a tender piano score to complement the idea of human emotion and sympathy.

But the austere tone of the film is also counter-balanced with an interesting theme of humanizing the inhuman—a task the source material handles exceedingly well. The book itself (In Cold Blood) explores the human aspects of even the most cold-blooded acts of cruelty.

The plot focuses on the relationship between the ambitious but friendly and persuasive Capote and the accused murderer Perry Smith. As the story develops, the film draws clever and subtle parallels between their emerging friendship on the surface and the contrasting desires nested within: Capote’s search for book material and Perry’s heartless desires for self-gratification.

Perry’s full sociopathy finally surfaces toward the end once the veils are cast aside to reveal the harsh but ultimately human truth that lies beneath. The sequence portraying Perry’s confession illustrates this best, climatically depicting the heartbreaking humanity inherent in his brutality.

What could they have done better?

While the film demonstrates excellence in many regards, the story does have a few areas that could have been improved.

1. Where’s the Other Killer?

The book In Cold Blood depicts Perry Smith and Dick Hickock as a pair of cold-blooded killers—Dick coming across as particularly unfeeling and brutal compared to the warmth exhibited by Perry. While Dick is included in the film, his character lacks meaningful presence. Sure, the heart of Capote centers around the Truman’s relationship with Perry, but that doesn’t excuse his absence, particularly because Dick’s character provides an incredible opportunity to draw further contrast between the humanness of Perry and Dick’s inhumanness.

2. Act Three Pacing

The slow and steady pacing works for the film…except in the final act. Capote builds up the potential to push toward a riveting climax, but instead falls into the typical biopic pitfall of slowing down to end on a low note. Capote’s third act slows down an already andante step even more, practically to the point of boredom.

Still, all-in-all, a film worth seeing, particularly if you are fan of either Truman Capote or Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Rating: 4 / 5

 

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