What's New, BlueCat? |
The Official Newsletter of the
Bluecat Screenplay Competition
December 20th, 2011
|Happy Holidays from BlueCat!
Christmas is here at last - or maybe too soon, depending on how much shopping you have left to do. Hanukkah is right around the corner, Kwanzaa's about a week off, and Pancha Ganapati
is somewhere in the mix too. Point is, we're all celebrating something.
Right now, though, you should be celebrating the newsletter you're about to read, because we've got a lot of great stuff for you - a new Ask A Reader, an interview with agency represented scriptwriter Timothy Grant, and a Gordy Video, along with the usual quotes and selected scripts. (Hopefully this makes up for the fact that we didn't get you any presents this year. Sorry about that.) In addition, check below to find the new dates for the 2012 BlueCat Workshops - space is limited, so if you want to improve your writing and make your script more marketable, apply quick!
Read and enjoy - but, more importantly, have an incredibly happy holiday with your loved ones. Screenplays are great and all, but that's easily one thing that's more important.
-The Bluecat Team
| Ask A Reader: The First 30 Pages|
When A Script Goes From Good To Boring
Do you find the first 10-30 pages of many scripts are excellent... and then it all goes pear-shaped after that?
I think it's possible to have a very good opening sequence and then things fall apart, but I've never had a script where the first twenty or even thirty pages were excellent and then it went downhill. The cracks will usually appear after the opening sequence (or before, if there are real issues.) Once you get past pg. 11 we're usually over the honeymoon phase. It's where we tend to get the meat and potatoes of both plot and character development as well as the necessary exposition. We don't usually need a context for the opening sequence, because it just gives us a feel for the world of the film, gets us excited about continuing and hopefully even surprises us a little. (Films like The Dark Knight do this really well. We keep expecting Batman to save the day but instead we're being introduced to a surprising new anti-hero.) A good opening often works as a freestanding short film but after that you have to prove that we have a movie here, both structurally and thematically. Things can fall apart in the last act of the film, but I've never had the first third be great and then lost it on pg. 31. Good beginnings and endings tend to take care of their middles.
Though I have certainly read scripts that lose their steam by the midpoint and pick it back up again by the end, that does not seem to be the most common issue that writers face. The most consistent structural issue I have seen is far too much time spent on the setup, delaying the kick off of the story. The protagonist, their goal, and the obstacle preventing that goal should generally be established by page 10, but few writers are able to establish that effectively. However, writers who do accomplish that feat, do face the challenge of losing steam by the midpoint. It is a challenge to keep a reader engaged throughout an entire script.
In my experience, the quality of the first 10-30 pages is usually a pretty good indication of what the rest of the script is going to be like; however, I have run into cases where the first ten pages set up a truly great concept that the next ninety failed to exploit.
But if first act is truly excellent, it's a pretty good bet that the rest of the script will be. (On the other hand, I've read a number of scripts that flubbed their opening scenes/sequences yet picked up considerably about forty or so pages in when the stories found their focus.)
Definitely. Some scripts often have impeccable starts only to see the wheels fly off... Incredibly frustrating.
Equally problematic are scripts that really struggle to find a vital element in that opening portion necessary to engage the reader within the story. Those "10-30 pages" end up reading as an unfocused path towards clarity as the script finds its bearings. Many times, after 10-30 pages, I'm still wondering what's happening in the story or what the story is about... Also incredibly frustrating. Regardless of the choices made by the writer to deliberately withhold or reveal information, an audience needs to be engaged and "on-board" in some capacity through any degree of tone, narrative style, pace or setting as a few examples.
Actually no, in my experience I've found quite the opposite to be true. Writers tend to get very bogged down in too much exposition surrounding their characters and settings. As a result, it takes a long time for their stories to find the central conflict and character arc. Recently I've seen quite a few scripts that didn't really get going until the back half of the second act, but really kicked it up a notch once they did. My best advice would be to trust your readers a little bit more when you're writing your first act. We don't need to know everything about these characters upfront - it's always better to stretch out information over time. Get your conflict and character arc up close and personal in those first few pages and get going with the story!
Rarely. Outstanding screenplays usually make themselves known within the 1st act, and remain outstanding throughout. If your screenplay has a bumpy 2nd or 3rd act, chances are your 1st act needs work, too. If you find yourself having trouble writing the middle or end of your screenplay, try revisiting the beginning!
I agree. I think people tend to rewrite Act One more than they rewrite the rest of their screenplay, so those pages tend to be the most polished. And it is always easier to introduce possibilities than it is to pay them off in a satisfying manner. I always think it's worth doing a whole rewrite focused on Act Three alone to counterbalance this, so long as you remember that most Act Three issues stem from Act One.
| Selected Script: Die Hard|
Merry Action Christmas
Hey, don't roll your eyes - not only is Die Hard totally a legitimate Christmas movie, it's also an excellent example of good screenwriting. The tough guy hero is an emotionally vulnerable family man trying to rebuild his fractured marriage and the villain is a thief moonlighting as a terrorist - these inversions give depth to the characters. Also, pay attention to Holly's watch (the one she gets from that jerk Ellis) as a symbol of her troubled relationship with John and how it figures into the finale. See? There's a solid script at work behind all those explosions.
| Submit Your Questions For Ask A Reader!|
Got questions for our readers? Don't be shy; ask! Submit your questions
for our Ask A Reader
feature - we'll pick one and send it out to our readers, and then post their responses here so you can get a glimpse into the heads of the people reading your work.
|Gordy Video: Who Best To Learn From? |
Luke had Obi-Wan, Daniel had Mr. Miyagi - wise mentors who taught them lessons about how to perfect their craft. Where should you go to find your Miyagi? BlueCat founder Gordy Hoffman gives his recommendation.
"So the writer is the only person who's taking absolutely nothing, and 120 pages of it, and dirtying it up in such a way that it's gonna gross hundreds of millions of dollars and make a lot of people happy."
Paul Guay (Screenwriter, Liar, Liar)"Well, Jack Warner may have been celebrated for calling writers "Schmucks with Underwoods," but 20 years earlier Irving Thalberg ... said, "The most important person in the motion picture process is the writer, and we must do everything in our power to prevent them from ever realizing it."
Steven De Souza (Writer, 48 Hrs)
Upcoming BlueCat Workshops! Meet Writers! Improve Your Script!
Full Script Workshop (Limit 7 writers)
Saturday, March 10th, 9:00AM-6:00PM
Hollywood Production Center
1149 N. Gower St.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Full Registration $175
New York City
Full Script Workshop (Limit 7 writers)
Sunday, May 6th, 9:00AM-6:00PM
Space on White
81 White Street
New York, NY 10013
Full Registration $245
Full Script Workshop (Limit 7 Writers)
Saturday, March 31st, 9:00AM-6:00PM
1914 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Full Registration $225
| Entrant Profile: Timothy Grant|
When did you start writing screenplays?
I had made attempts in fits and starts for years, but I started in earnest in 2007 when I signed up for Writer's Bootcamp in Santa Monica. It sounded like a program that was going to kick my ass and force me to man up and soldier through the 2nd act slog. I imagined myself belly-crawling under barbed metaphors, cliche grenades blasting all around.
It wasn't quite that butch, but I did have two fantastic "drill sergeants" during my time there - Tawnya Bhattacharya and Charlotte Chatton. They taught me structure and discipline and encouraged me every step of the way.
Why did you start writing screenplays?
It was really a process of elimination. I see myself as a soft-spoken, conflict-averse, type-B personality. The idea of entering the lion's den of the entertainment industry and exposing myself to their judgement terrified me. But I couldn't think of any other career direction that excited me. I did research and consulted career websites, yet I kept coming back to the unshakable fact that I love movies and I wanted to write them.
Joseph Campbell said: "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." So I entered the scary cave seeking the treasure ... while still fully expecting to get eaten by a bear. It still could happen. I avoid honey and picnic baskets just in case.
How many screenplays have you finished?
Two features and one treatment for a feature. My first horror-comedy feature (Buzz Kill) was optioned and has an amazing director attached and is now out to actors.
I'm in rewrites on my second feature spec and am really jazzed to get working on a third. I've written horror and horror-comedy, but now I'm interested in tackling a pure comedy spec. Funny is the next scary cave.
How do you find time to write?
I don't. I have to make time. I used to hate screenwriters who said that in interviews, but it's true. Writing is a war against time and a war against procrastination. I have a full time job, so I have to write on evenings and weekends. I almost always bring my laptop when I travel. No matter where I am, I figure I can wake up, plug in and get a few hours in.
The biggest struggle that I have with scheduling writing time is that writing hours are not created equal. I can have an incredibly productive 15 minutes one day and then the next day, I can spend four hours alternating between commenting on everything my 10th grade Biology lab partner posts on Facebook and pounding my head against the monitor softly repeating "I suck."
I can plan writing time, but I am less successful at planning productive writing time.
What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with the most?
The writing part. It's all so perfect in my head. But when I write it down, it looks like absolute garbage. Every writer knows what good writing looks like, which is why it is so frigging painful to write that first lousy draft (and the second and the third). I fight a nasty internal judge every step of the way. It's like having Simon Cowell standing over my shoulder saying: "Shit, shit, shit" in response to every word that I type.
So I have to trick him by saying: "I'm going to write a shitty screenplay that nobody will ever read." My inner judge is satisfied that I have finally agreed to my own worthlessness and quiets a bit. It's crazy, but it's the only way I can get anything done.
Why do you feel like you do well as a screenwriter?
People seem to respond to my characters. I write mostly horror. Much too often in horror movies, the potential victims are annoying douche-nozzles, which forces the audience to identify with the killer as he carries out some dark repressed wish fulfillment for them. (The ultimate example of this just might be Paris Hilton's death scene in House of Wax.)
I find it much scarier when characters I like and relate to are in mortal danger. I look up at the screen and think: "That could be me!" There is no separation. So, regardless of genre, I try to write characters that have a sense of humor and are like people I've known in my life, not just like people that I've seen in other movies.
I'm also a stickler for having a flawed main character whose outer battle is a mirror for their psychological internal battle. Silence of the Lambs is the gold standard for me. Clarice's struggle with having to put on the "man pants" in a male-dominated FBI world is perfectly inverted by her nemesis Buffalo Bill's desire to make himself a woman suit. Her struggle with the loss of her father is perfectly mirrored by the twisted father figure of Hannibal Lecter who forces her to face her darkest memory.
How does screenwriting make you happy?
Writing doesn't make me happy as much as not writing makes me miserable. The process itself can be kind of crazy making and lonely. But completing a script feels great ... and having a producer tell you they loved your script and are determined to make it into a film feels fantastic. When it happened to me, I was over the moon. If I was a cat, I would have purred. If I was a dog I would have peed on the floor. I'm sure everyone involved was glad I was not a dog.
But seriously, it was a validation of all the hours I'd spent with my butt in a chair instead of at the beach learning to surf or wine tasting or whatever it is people with free time do.
What do you think is the biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood?
My biggest pet peeve is that, with notable exceptions, female characters are often written only as love interests or girlfriends. Even when they are written as main characters, their goal is far too often a relationship with a man instead of self-development.
Franchise films can certainly be well written and have great story lines and characters. Off the top of my head, I thought Captain America, the Chris Nolan Batmans, and the first Iron Man were all solid stories with compelling character arcs. But there are too many talented writers churning out original ideas that will never see the light of day because there is no way to develop a related toy that can fit inside a Happy Meal box. And that is a meal of sad.
Even though I'm a guy, my favorite characters are vulnerable and damaged, but tough, women who rise to challenges over great odds. Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Ellen Ripley in Alien, Sarah Conner in Terminator 2 and Vanessa Lutz in Freeway are some of my favorites. They never once whine about how their boyfriend doesn't make eye contact during sex. They have bigger problems -- like mind-fucking cannibals, sleazy serial killers, psycho robots from the future and snappy-jawed aliens with acid blood!
I also think there has been too much focus on franchise and familiarity over story and originality. It's tough to get an idea made into a motion picture if it hasn't already been a toy, book, television show, board game, or breakfast cereal.
Which of your screenplays are you the most proud of? Buzz Kill was my first screenplay and it was optioned, has a fantastic director attached and got me awesome representation, so it's a pretty easy call to say ... yeah, that one.
I am re-writing my second screenplay right now and hope to be equally proud of it in the near future. It certainly is easier to write your second screenplay. I didn't worry as much, because I knew that first draft, which I pretty much threw out, was just a tiny step in a long process.
One great challenge a lot of writers face is finding an agent. You have an agent at UTA - how did you go about getting one, and how would you recommend other writers secure representation? Well, that's kind of a funny story. The idea of finding a representative seemed extremely daunting to me. I figured I'd have to have about three feature specs completed and perfect before I could even think about querying one. But that's not how it worked out, because I am extremely lucky.
I had completed Buzz Kill and showed it to some writer friends - Tegan West and Scott Atkinson. They called me a week later and asked me to breakfast at The Waffle on Sunset. I thought this was just a nice way to congratulate me, have some eggs, and give me their thoughts and some mild encouragement. But, they optioned the script. Then, they brought it to RCR Pictures,where Dan Seligmann (thank you Dan!) read it and hyped it to his boss Robin Schorr. Robin loved it and partnered with Tegan and Scott on the option.
As part of her production strategy, Robin started targeting representation for me. She put Buzz Kill in the hands of Jake Wagner, a fantastic manager at FilmEngine who had just repped two specs that sold -- Snow White and the Huntsman and Evidence. We had a meeting, he told me how much he loved the script and that he wanted to sign me.
Before I had even said yes, Jake had talked me up to Ramses IsHak and Michael Sheresky at UTA . They read the script, loved it, and then set up a meeting. I signed with Jake and UTA. It all happened in a dizzying two week period.
I don't think this is the "normal" way to get representation, so I'm not sure I can give very good advice to others on how to do it. I feel very, very lucky that I had such kick ass people in my corner. I must have done something very right in a past life to get hooked up with a producer like Robin Schorr. She's well respected, well connected, has a real respect for writers and a deep intuitive understanding of story, and got me terrific representation.
She could pretty much get me to wash her car for free ... on my birthday ... in a windstorm.
I guess my advice is to focus on the first step. Write the best damn screenplay you can. Don't focus on things further up the staircase, like getting repped. Also, know that having representation doesn't mean having a career. I still need to keep working at it to get to that next step.
In other news, I now have the same agents as Ice Cube, so my street cred has soared.
You maintain a blog,
Post Mortem Depression, about slasher films from the 1970s. What draws you to this specific genre, and do you think modern horror directors could learn something from the films of this period? My Dad used to bring me to the Drive-Ins when I was a kid. I grew up on Halloween, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead -- all of the great and not-so-great horror flicks of the late 70s and early 80s. Those Friday and Saturday nights are among my favorite childhood memories.
In terms of modern horror movies, I've been generally disappointed with the lack of character development and story. They often make the mistake of focusing on the monster instead of the heroine (she is usually female). If the heroine is flat and the demon doesn't line up with the psychological problem she needs to solve, then it just seems to be a parade of gore without purpose to me.
But this was even true in the "golden age" of horror in the 70s and 80s. You had classics like The Exorcist, Halloween, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, butyou also had shoddy imitators like Beyond the Door,New Year's Evil and Pieces. The thing about bad movies of that era is that they were low-budget and looked like crap, so they are fun and cheesy and get a pass on story. The newer bad horror films have big budgets and expensive effects, but haven't really upped the ante in the story and character department, which is too bad, because the story-crafting part is comparatively cheap.
But there are some great 21st century horror movies: Martyrs, Wolf Creek, Eden Lake, Lake Mungo, The Descent, Let Me In / Let the Right One In, Trick r' Treat, [rec], Zombieland, House of the Devil, probably a bunch I'm forgetting. Each one took familiar genre elements and did something very fresh with them while paying close attention to story and character.
In general, I think horror gets a bad rap. There are certainly lots of bad horror movies out there, but the genre as a whole still gets maligned as harmful by some who claim to be spiritual or psychological. I find this ironic, since at the core of all great religions and depth psychology is the basic idea that the path to wholeness always starts with a descent into the darkness and a confrontation with our demons. It is an archetypal human growth cycle and horror movies provide a safe, communal, fun way to engage in it.
Jung said "to confront a person with his Shadow is to show him his own light," and I can't say it any better than that.
Thanks, Timothy, for your time and your answers!
FEBRUARY 1ST, 2012:
MARCH 1ST, 2012:
MARCH 15TH 2012:
FIVE FINALISTS ANNOUNCED
MARCH 22ND 2012:
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