The Zen of Short Scripts

The Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos, NM is reminiscent of buildings used in the sets of western movies, image from wikipedia
The Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos, NM is reminiscent of buildings used in the sets of western movies, image from wikipedia

Writing Features

I began writing scripts for feature length film not because I thought that it would be a good idea, but because someone else thought I had a great story for a movie. Unfortunately (or fortunately) whatever the case may be, my friend just happened to be an agent for screenplays and TV pilots. As luck would have it, he was not very successful at negotiating sales, even though he had one of his own scripts optioned and turned into a pilot. Nonetheless, I finished my first script and seeing how relatively straightforward the process was, I went ahead and put together two more. Presently, these screenplays sit in a drawer. Here’s what I learned in the process.

Some things To Consider

Will your screenplay be economical to shoot. That means no fancy special effects, no foreign locations, and the fewer scenes you have the better off you will be if and when a Hollywood executive gets to take a real look at the script. Also a smaller cast might be an advantage also. Does anyone remember The Blair Witch Project? Your concept does not have to be that bare bones, but still the remarkable and unpredictable success of this film should be noted.

Why Make A Short Film

Overall, there are many reasons why you might want to make a short film. First of all it’s cheaper. That kind of goes without saying, for making a five minute short will be a lot easier on the old budget that a feature length. On a similar note a short film does not take a lot of time to edit and involves a smaller cast and production crew. Furthermore, the short will give the director and writer more artistic freedom, so that they might undertake riskier work. Also of note, is the improving market for short films, especially with the advent of such online markets as Vevo and Youtube. And finally, if you short takes off, it could still get previewed at a high-profile film festival or even receive an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film.

The Short Film Script

Now comes the challenge of actually sitting down and writing the short script. When you do you might want to keep some of these ideas in mind. Don’t forget that a short film is usually really short, less than ten minutes with the 2 to 5 minute range being very popular, especially if are planning to put your finished product up online. Just think of a short film as the equivalent of flash fiction….that is small bite of reality that might go over well in our contemporary world of digital communications and the 30-second sound bite. And just because your little episode is short, remember that it must tell a story. This means a beginning, middle and good ending.

Old school method of using a camcorder to make a film
Old school method of using a camcorder to make a film, from wikipedia

 

 

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Why Do Fairy Tales Have So Many Strong Female Leads?

Image of Cinderella from the upcoming movie
Image of Cinderella from the upcoming movie

Woman’s History Month

The month of March is Woman’s History Month. Usually, this is an event that I completely ignore, but this year due to a series of interesting blog posts around the web, I have become intrigued with the subject of not only women in filmmaking, but also the study of stories with strong female leads. As a result my blogs for the rest of this month will revolve around this emerging topic.

The Situation Today

There is a fascinating blog post over at blcklst.com (Blacklist), where the author, Terry Huang, does a comparison of movies made with female leads to those made with male leads. What is most revealing about this undertaking is that Terry does this at different budget levels and the result is not really very surprising. As the budget for a film increases so does the likelihood that the film will revolve around a central male protagonist. What is surprising here, is how this comparison falls into an almost predictable mathematical curve. For example, at the one million dollar budget level, male films outscore female films by a two-to-one ratio. However, by time one reaches the 200 million dollar budget, this ratio has increased to a 10 to 1 margin.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there were many stories with strong female leads. In that bygone era, the art of storytelling was dominated by the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Gretel. And as in the case of Gretel, not all these characters liked to play nice. Take Gretel for example, who outsmarts the wicked witch that has imprisoned her and her brother and gains freedom for both herself and her less inventive brother, Hansel.

Nowadays, it seems that most of our big budget movies are not made unless there is a storyline that revolves around a strong, male protagonist. Incidentally, some recent movies have returned to the days of the Grimm Brothers to come up with a cinema feature with a strong female lead. If not for the recent releases of Snow White and the Huntsman, Frozen, Hansel and Gretel (Witchhunters) and soon-to-be-seen Cinderella, this picture would be a bit darker.

Still, 50 Shades of Gray leads the 2015 releases with the most sales. With over nine months left in the calendar year, it remains to be seen, if this will still be the case.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf as pictured in an ad by HADD (Hispanics Against Drunk Driving)
Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf as pictured in an ad by HADD (Hispanics Against Drunk Driving)

 

The Day After the Oscars

A Collage of Gowns from 2015
A Collage of Gowns from 2015

The Morning After

I woke up this morning and was surprised to learn that last night was Oscar night. I don’t think I missed very much and it came as no surprise that this years awards had the least number viewers in six years. The 2015 awards have also been criticized as the “whitest” group of nominees since 1998. Also by the looks of things, the array of colorful gowns were probably the most conservative in quite a while. A sign of the changing times……..or perhaps just coincidence. My thoughts are that one year does not make a trend. Over the past decade black actors and actresses have been fairly well represented at the podium, while their Hispanic and Asian counterparts have been much less conspicuous. And Native American participants have been almost non-existent. It’s too soon to tell if this is a trend, but if this continues over the next few years, the people who put on the show may have to do some re-thinking.

Highlights

Just from looking around the web on the morning after, the highlights can be described in one short sentence. Birdman won best picture and screenwriter, Graham Moore, gave an impassioned speech about his main subject, Alan Turing and the screenplay he wrote for the Imitation Game. Other than that the Oscars may have been more routine than usual.

Is There More Competition Out There

Naturally, the question arose in my mind about whether the increased presence of Indie films and online venues such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu is taking its toll on our much-cherished national institution. Just from what I’ve seen of Amazon Prime, I would say that there may be something to this argument. Especially, Amazon, which seems to be gearing up in a big way to possibly challenge the dominance of Hollywood……or at the very least providing a viable alternative in the way we are entertained.

Two Questionable Films

Fifty Shades of Grey is tearing up box office sales at the theater almost in the same that the story did, when it was first released in book form. However, at the Oscars, the film was kind of snubbed (though Dakota Johnson did get to present an award). Besides being snubbed the film has been attacked as being misogynistic and misguided. There have even been boycott efforts, but these appear to have little effect, as the film is still the number one grossing film in its second week at the box office. However, 50 Shades did receive support from one star, Julie Andrews, who said she didn’t mind a red room of pain. (really)

And the other source of controversy is the recently released action/thriller called The Kingsman, in which there is a scene, where the head of a black president explodes. Critics here point out that the resemblance to our current Commander-in-Chief is way too close even if it is, just a movie.

It seems to be that a close look at these two questionable films may be symptomatic as to why Hollywood may have a problem with the content and overall caliber of its product. Only time will tell.

 

M104: The Sombrero Galaxy  Image Data: NASA, ESO , NAOJ, Giovanni Paglioli - Processing: R. Colombari
M104: The Sombrero Galaxy
Image Data: NASA, ESO , NAOJ, Giovanni Paglioli – Processing: R. Colombari

 

 

Two Offbeat American Holidays…..Back To Back

A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day
A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day

Winter

Winter is 13 weeks long….and depending where you live – this can be a short 13 weeks or a very long thirteen weeks. Also part of the equation is whether you enjoy outdoor winter sports……or not. For an avid skier, a warm winter with no snow can make for a very long winter and an economically bad season, as well, especially…. if he or she happens to be employed with the ski industry. However, for the most of the rest of us, it is a long ways from the winter solstice to the spring equinox. Perhaps, this explains why there are so many joyous holiday within this time period. Without Christmas, New Years Day, Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day, this quarter of the year would be a whole lot, less bearable.

Midwinter

Strangely enough,  two of our most offbeat holidays occur right at the midwinter mark. In fact, this year they fall on consecutive days. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhogs Day, which just happen to respectively occur on the first and second day of February. The combination of the two just might maks for a great way to revel in the fact that winter is half over.

Bad Year For the NFL

A recent news story about the jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial illustrates just how low the NFL has fallen during the current season. Judy Garsh, judge for the Hernandez trial, has ruled that the jurors can watch the Super Bowl, only if the name of Aaron Hernandez is not mentioned. And, if one of the newscasters has a slip of the tongue, then the unlucky viewers will  have to turn the game off. Now that’s bizarre. Combine this situation with all the sex abuse allegations and the recent deflate-gate controversy surrounding the Patriots victory over the Colts and it becomes quite clear that the NFL commissioners (and many fans as well) with have very good reason to celebrate Groundhogs Day on Monday. Yeah!!!! the season’s finally over.

A Cult Movie Accents an Offbeat Holiday

Look through the comedy section of any movie DVD store (or online site) and you will see hundreds of listings with catchy titles that fail to deliver. Strangely enough, one of the perennial favorites is Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. When first released in 19992, the movie was well received and got favorable reviews. Since then the film has grown in stature, so that nowadays, the popular fantasy fare is consistently listed as one of the top ten comedies and sometimes even included as one of the ten best films ever. So if you have yet to see this film, you might want to give it a viewing. And if one of the announcers slips up and mentions Aaron Hernandez’s name, you can show solidarity with the 18 jurors and turn off the sports contest and put on the groundhog movie.

The Interview

 

North Korean Troops Marching London Korean Links Covering Things Korean in London, from London, since 2006
Cheesecake on Parade       North Korean Troops Marching
from London Korean Links
Covering Things Korean in London, from London, since 2006

A Brief Overview

The Korean protest against the showing of a movie, called The Interview, is kind of old news now, especially after the tragic events that just unfolded in Paris, France, just a few days ago. Still, I would like to explore how SONY inadvertently explored some new ways of releasing a film…and how they surprisingly recouped most of their production costs (estimated are at around 44million), once they did decide to go through with the Christmas Day release.

Timeline

On Nov. 24, about a month before its scheduled theatrical release, SONY got seriously hacked. Within a few weeks, SONY announced that it would not release The Interview, even though the Dec. 11 West Coast premiere did take place. Then, right before Christmas, SONY had a change of heart. They would release The Interview both in the theater and through online venues like Google Play and Video on Demand. Though the cinematic showing was limited, the online streaming and downloading of this feature length movie then go forward, as planned.

Some Facts and Figures

As of Jan. 6, the Interview has pulled in 31 million through Video On Demand and another 5 million through its limited theatrical debut. I’m sure the film would have done better at the box office under normal conditions, but right now the film sales must in what can be best called a salvage operation. The film cost only 44 million to make, but add distribution and marketing and now you have a film that runs close to 75 million. And this doesn’t even touch the expenses that were run up, after the SONY Corp. got so badly hacked, for there’s no telling what that cause the entertainment giant.

Has the Interview Enhanced Online Viewing

Even so, there is a definite silver lining in this cloud. And that would be how the enhanced VOD sales, courtesy of a very, ticked off head-of-state in North Korea, saved this movie and perhaps changed the playing field, when marketing a feature length movie. This was happening even before the ‘Interview’ fiasco, but even more than before, producers now must be taking in and discussing how to maximize both types of viewing and sales, when releasing a new movie.

Summing It Up

I’m sure this is big news to Netflix and its upstart challenger, Amazon Prime, who both have tapped into the online streaming market, while completely ignoring (thus far) the virtual reality of showing a full-length movie in a brick-and-mortar movie theater. I can’t help to contemplate that the news that Woody Allen is now in cahoots with Amazon Prime, somehow indicates that dual (theater and online ) releases may in the (near) future plans.

NorthKoreantroopsmarchingfromgunboards.com

Is Hollywood Passé?

A Hollywood based business in New Mexico, photo by author
A Hollywood based business in New Mexico, photo by author

A Unique Photo Op

This abandoned business in Northern New Mexico, got me thinking about the present fortunes of tinsel town. Though the West Coast film mecca is very much economically alive and producing popular films, there is no doubt about it, the film industry is going through changes. People just don’t attend movies like they use to…..but to compensate for the lack of moviegoers, the industry has found a healthy market in foreign countries and at the American home. This and the ability to lead the field in special effects have enabled the popular industry to remain an important force within the entertainment industry. ……. And don’t forget cartoon characters almost always sell well.

Quotes On the Nature of Hollywood

1. “The classy gangster is a Hollywood invention.”  by Orson Welles

2. “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” by Marilyn Monroe

3. “Hollywood is like Picasso’s bathroom.”  by Candice Bergen

4. “Mark Twain’s old saying ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ still reigns in Hollywood.” ― James Morcan

5. “Sometimes it’s good to be the smartest rat in the sewer.” ― Michael Houbrick

6. “Whether you’re talking about the Egyptian pharaohs or Hollywood movie stars, it all ends the same way. DEATH.” Neal A. Yeager

7.  “I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.” – Elizabeth Taylor

8. “Hollywood didn’t kill Marilyn Monroe; it’s the Marilyn Monroes who are killing Hollywood.” – Billy Wilder

9. “It’s actually great to shoot far away from Hollywood because we don’t have the distractions of the parties and premieres and all that. And, of course, you can save money – there are no good shoe stores.” – Katie Holmes

10. “But the West did not last long enough. Its folk myths and heroes became stage properties of Hollywood before the poets had begun to get to work on them.” – Christopher Dawson

11. “Independent films are where you really get to cut your teeth and have some fun and do the things that mainstream Hollywood doesn’t want to do.” – Anthony Anderson

12. “Hollywood isn’t your cesspool, America. It’s your mirror.” – Bill Maher

13. “In Hollywood, the real stars are all in animation. Alvin and the Chipmunks don’t throw star fits, don’t demand custom-designed Winnebagos, and are a breeze at costume fittings. Cruella DeVille, Gorgo, Rainbow Brite, Gus-Gus, Uncle Scrooge, and the Care Bears are all superstars and they don’t have drug problems, marital difficulties, or paternity suits to blacken their images.” ― John Waters

14. “Hollywood is loneliness beside the swimming pool.” – Liv Ullman

 

Did Hollywood peak in 1939?

No way around it, Hollywood had a great year in 1939. Some even say it was the best. While large parts of Europe were falling to a fascist regime, our American moviemakers put out a short list of great films. Among the 1939 greats are such classics, as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Wuthering Heights. Looking at the titles, one might think the country was oblivious to world events, but Hollywood has always been a bit of an escapist and surreal enterprise. If America was in a cloud during the last year of third decade of the twentieth century, they would soon find themselves rudely awakened by events in the Pacific, nearly two years later.

Moviemaking In New Mexico

Actually, film directors are more often coming to the Land of Enchantment to film parts or all of their movies. The Spanish state has always had great desert scenery and recent economic incentives from New Mexico seem to be working well in attracting film companies. Just a few years ago, Lone Survivor, was shot almost entirely here because the landscape resembled Afghanistan so well. Other film crews that have spent all or part of their time here include The Lone Ranger, True Grit (2010 version), The Avengers, Crazy Heart and the 3:10 To Yuma.

Taglines, Loglines and the Haiku of Screenwriting

The Kaskelot in Bangor (England) is moored to the dock with two lines, from wikipedia, photo by Ross
The Kaskelot in Bangor (England) is moored to the dock with two lines, from wikipedia, photo by Ross

Simple Analogy (but maybe it Works)

Screenwriting is a well defined craft. There’s not a whole lot of room for flexibility…..at least not at first glance. In a script for a full length film, the text should come in at just under 120 pages. Font is a mandatory New Courier with even spaces between each letter. Your story is told from start to finish by the use of several basic written components. Most important,  is the dialogue, spoken between characters. In between dialogue,there is action and setting, which isaptly  noted by small blocks of description.

Then come the Sluglines, which give a quick  heading to each scene.  Rounding up the screenwriter’s toolbox are various commands directed towards the final composition of the film. These include such well-used prompts as fade in, fade out, superimpose, cut to and montage (of shots), just to name a few. In reality, this limited palette of writing tools just makes the writers job more challenging. Taglines and Loglines actually fall outside of writing the script and are in many ways much like the two mooring lines pictured above, for they anchor the main ship to the commercial doc. However in a screenplay, they do so in different ways.

The Logline

Loglines identify movies, for each movie has one. By the time the film hits the big screen the logline is passe′, but during the development process, the logline is essential to promoting and eventually selling the script to producers and financial backers. Therefore it is essential that the screenwriter come with a catchy one or two sentence riff that defines the proposed movie in a nutshell.

Loglines of Successful Movies

1. “A man with no name and a man with a mission hunt a Mexican bandit for different reasons.”  For a Few Dollars More

2. ” A college graduate, home for the summer, has an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, then falls in love with her daughter.”  The Graduate (Compare this with the tagline, which is much better)

3.  “Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to.”  Midnight Cowboy

4. “An Iowa housewife, stuck in her routine, must choose between true romance and the needs of her family.”  Bridges of Madison County

5. “Charlie Brown is finally invited to a Halloween party; Snoopy engages the Red Baron in a dogfight; and Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin.” It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

6. Only two men can save the world when Aliens attack and attempt to loot and destroy Earth on July 4th.” Independence Day

7. “Upon admittance to a mental institution, a brash rebel rallies the patients to take on an oppressive head nurse, a woman he views more as more dictator than nurse.” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

8. “A 17th century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Jack Sparrow joins forces with the young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England’s daughter and reclaim his ship.” Pirates of the Caribbean

What Is a Tagline?

In short, a Tagline is an abbreviated version of a logline. It is the catchy little slogan that helps sell your movie to the right people and then it may be used a second time to make a favorable impression on the general public.

Great Movies and Their Corresponding Taglines

1. “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.” The Forty-year Old Virgin

2. “The bitch is back.” Alien 3

3. “They had a date with fate in Casablanca.” Casablanca

4. “The nearer they get to their treasure, the farther they get from the law.” The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

5. “The movie too HOT for words!” Some like It Hot

6. “It’s all about women…and their men!” All About Eve

7. “This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future.”  The Graduate

8. “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby.”  Rosemary’s Baby

9. “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.” Taxi Driver

10. “M*A*S*H Gives a D*A*M*N.” M.A.S.H.

11. “How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?” Deep Throat

12. “The snobs against the slobs!” Caddyshack

13. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The Shining

14. “Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?”  When Harry Met Sally

15. “And you thought Earth girls were easy…” Bad Girls from Mars

16. “What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?” Sleepless in Seattle

17. “This Ain’t No Chick Flick!” AND “Escape or Die Frying.” Chicken Run

18. “They have a plan…but not a clue.” O Brother, Where Art Thou?

19. “EARTH – take a good look. Today could be your last.” Independence Day

20. “The Toys are back in town.” Toy Story 2

Get the Picture

There is a distinct difference between a logline and a tagline. While the logline attempts to follow good sentence and grammatical structure, the tagline, more often than not, breaks free from the restraints of good grammar into the realm of slick sloganisms  and making the English language do the boogie-woogie. And this my friends is the basic essence of taglines and loglines.