How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (10 Part Series)

March 30th, 2015 by

How important are story ideas, the central concept upon which a script is based? Consider these quotes from professional screenwriters:

“Most aspiring screenwriters simply don’t spend enough time choosing their concept. It’s by far the most common mistake I see in spec scripts. The writer has lost the race right from the gate. Months — sometimes years — are lost trying to elevate a film idea that by its nature probably had no hope of ever becoming a movie.”

— Terry Rossio (Aladdin, The Mask of Zorro, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

Ideas cost NOTHING and require ZERO risk. And yet, oddly, the LEAST amount of time’s usually spent in the idea stage before a small fortune is dumped on a whimsy that’s still half-baked… Ideas cost nothing yet have the potential to yield inexplicably long careers and happy lives.”

— Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Zak and Miri Make a Porno)

“The idea is still king. Spend 90% of your time working on the idea.”

— Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton)

There’s no right way to come up with story ideas, just like there’s no right way to write. However for the last two weeks, I featured a series of posts with a number of tips on how to generate and assess story ideas. Here are those links:

Part 1: What If…

Part 2: Halliwell’s Film Guide

Part 3: Images

Part 4: Titles

Part 5: Gender-Bending

Part 6: Genre-Bending

Part 7: Think International

Part 8: Franchise

Part 9: Test Your Concept

Part 10: Challenge Yourself

My advice? Bookmark this page. Go through those posts. And get yourself into the habit of looking for and generating a story idea each day. That’s right. Every single day. Because as Nobel Prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling said: “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”

Starting Wednesday, I put my proverbial money where my virtual mouth is for that’s when the 2015 iteration of A Story Idea Each Day for a Month begins. Join me as every day during April, I post a story idea I’ve surfaced via a news source during the previous 12 months. We will kick around a variety of ways to approach the development of each idea. And here’s the kicker: Any of the ideas is yours to use.

The story idea. Critically important to the success of any spec script.

Go Into The Story Week In Review: March 23-March 29, 2015

March 29th, 2015 by

Links to this week’s most notable posts:

Character Development Keys

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Foreigner

Go Into The Story Interview: Sallie West (2014 Nicholl winner)

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: Short Term 12

Great Character: Ren (Footloose)

Happy Birthday, Joseph Campbell!

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 6): Genre-Bending

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 7): Think International

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 8): Franchise

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 9): Test Your Concept

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 10): Challenge Yourself

Interview (Audio): Joss Whedon

Interview (Video): Pete Docter (Inside Out)

Interview (Written): Noah Baumbach (While We’re Young)

Movies You Made: All in the Valley

Movies You Made: Dark Origins

Movies You Made: For Flow

Movies You Made: Service

Movies You Made: Windscreenwiperman

On Writing: Sidney Sheldon

Reader Question: What are some suggestions for doing character ‘interviews’?

Saturday Hot Links

Screenwriting 101: John Gary

Screenwriting News (March 23-March 29, 2015)

Script To Screen: Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Spec Script Deal: The Leviathan

Spec Script Deal: Realm

Spec Script Deal: Temple

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything You Wanted To Know About Specs (Part 1)

Twitter Rant: Jeff Willis on Should You Pay for a Script Consultant

Video: “Subconscious Cinema”

Video: “The Beast Within: The Making of Alien

Video: “Superior Firepower: Making Aliens

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 10): Challenge Yourself

March 27th, 2015 by

Every April for the past five years, I have run the series A Story Idea Each Day for a Month. It’s quite popular as well it should be. All year long, I do what I’ve done for nearly three decades, scour news sources for potential script ideas. I select 30 of them and post one each day in April. The ideas are free for you to use for your own projects.

This year will be no different as I’ve aggregated thirty more story ideas to send your way starting on April 1. In advance of that, I figured it would be a good time to revisit another popular GITS series [originally posted in May 2012]: How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas.

Today in Part 10: Challenge Yourself.

Today I want to share a story from this 1990 NYT article about the spec script boom of that time:

Brian Helgeland and Manny Coto conceived ”The Ticking Man” in a telephone conversation after Mr. Helgeland joked, ”Let’s not hang up the phone until we come up with an idea we can sell for a million dollars.”

Says Mr. Helgeland: ”We started throwing bad ideas at each other. Then Manny said, ‘What if a nuclear bomb becomes sentient?’ Within minutes we had our robot.”

I’m not going to say you will come up with a million dollar script idea like that, but the fact is Helgeland and Coto did. Ironically that script, which did sell for a million dollars, never got produced, but Brian Helgeland has gone on to have a long screenwriting and directing career with 22 writing credits and Manny Coto has done well, too, on the TV side of things with series such as “24” and “Dexter.”

So I think it’s safe to say that one instant of creative insight — What if a nuclear bomb became sentient — not only resulted in several hundred thousand dollars being deposited into each of their bank accounts, that spec script jump-started their respective careers.

Of course, you will notice the presence of those two magic words: What if?

Takeaway: Challenge yourself! Challenge yourself to come up with a killer story concept. Set a timer. Lock yourself in a room with no distractions. Go away for the weekend. Pitch ideas back and forth with a writing friend. Do whatever it takes, but push, push, push yourself and your creativity.

Sometimes pressure is a good thing, indeed, the best thing for the creative process. It can force your brain to use different synapses, make you think outside the box. And just like Helgeland & Coto, it can happen in a moment.

For Part 1 in the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Part 7, here.

Part 8, here.

Part 9, here.

To check out the archives of the past Story Idea Each Day for a Month series, here you go! 150 ideas, yours for the picking!

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2010)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2011)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2012)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2013)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2014)

Another round starting April 1!

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 9): Test Your Concept

March 26th, 2015 by

Every April for the past five years, I have run the series A Story Idea Each Day for a Month. It’s quite popular as well it should be. All year long, I do what I’ve done for nearly three decades, scour news sources for potential script ideas. I select 30 of them and post one each day in April. The ideas are free for you to use for your own projects.

This year will be no different as I’ve aggregated thirty more story ideas to send your way starting on April 1. In advance of that, I figured it would be a good time to revisit another popular GITS series [originally posted in May 2012]: How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas.

Today in Part 9: Test Your Concept.

Today let me continue our conversation with this excerpt from my Core II: Concept course, Lecture 6 — Testing Your Story Concept:

Now that you have several tools to help you generate story concepts, you need a way to assess them. Here are five questions you can ask about any idea you come up with to help determine if it’s something worth pursuing as a script.

Does the concept have a grab?

The concept should have significant narrative elements that “grab” a reader’s imagination, elicit curiosity, and arouse an emotional response.

These elements may include the core conceit, key characters such as Protagonist and Nemesis, the central conflict, themes, where the story fits into its genre, and so on.

Does the concept have an indicator?

The concept should “indicate” to a reader the general direction the narrative will take, and that it promises to be an entertaining ride.

When any studio executive, producer, manager or agent hears a story concept, they want to be able to see the overall contour of the plot and what is compelling about it.

Does the concept have an audience?

The concept should conjure up a distinct “audience,” one a reader can readily match to a targeted, demographic group.

Anyone who is in a position to buy a script when hearing a story concept for the first time will immediately think, “Who will want to see this movie?”

Is the concept big enough to be a movie?

The concept should feel “big,” something that could sustain the interest of a script reader (and eventually a moviegoer) for up to two hours.

From a buyer’s standpoint, this question is directly related to the previous one: “Will the experience of watching this movie satisfy the viewer who spent $10 to see it?”

I have framed these four questions from a script reader and buyer’s perspective, however they work at the level of a writer thinking about the story strictly as a writing project:

* Does the concept have enough of a grab to give me confidence I can write a fully fleshed-out and entertaining story?

* Does the concept have a clear enough indicator to suggest a strong Plotline and Themeline leading to a satisfying resolution?

* Does the concept have a specific enough audience so I know for whom I am writing the story?

* Does the story feel big enough for me to find the narrative elements I need to write an engaging story of one hundred pages or more?

If those questions don’t speak directly enough to your writer’s soul about a story concept, this one surely will:

Does the story resonate with me on a personal level?

You may have stumbled upon the greatest high concept of all time, but if you don’t connect with it, if you don’t sense much in the way of enthusiasm for its narrative possibilities, and/or if the story doesn’t play to your writing strengths, it’s probably not a good idea to write that story.

You need to have some sort of personal connection with a story to find its emotional core and imbue its characters with life.

You need to have a passion for a story to keep luring you back to the writing and push you to FADE OUT. Writing is hard work. Writing something for which you do not much enthusiasm is really hard work.

With any story concept or logline you consider writing, you should ask yourself each of these questions seriously and honestly. As I suggested before, there is little point writing a spec script based on a story concept that has no chance of selling. Other than writing pages, which of course is valuable, writing a spec script based on a mediocre or inferior story concept is finally an exercise in futility.

Think about it this way: When you talk about trying to become a Hollywood screenwriter [or equivalent in your country outside the U.S.], you are not competing against your neighbors or friends or anonymous writers in a miscellaneous screenplay contest, you are going up against the best of the best, working writers who know the craft. That is your competition. And the first test of whether you can compete with Hollywood screenwriters is your story concept.

Tomorrow: Another tip on generating and developing story ideas.

For Part 1 in the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Part 7, here.

Part 8, here.

To check out the archives of the past Story Idea Each Day for a Month series, here you go! 150 ideas, yours for the picking!

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2010)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2011)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2012)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2013)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2014)

Another round starting April 1!

 

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 8): Franchise

March 25th, 2015 by

Every April for the past five years, I have run the series A Story Idea Each Day for a Month. It’s quite popular as well it should be. All year long, I do what I’ve done for nearly three decades, scour news sources for potential script ideas. I select 30 of them and post one each day in April. The ideas are free for you to use for your own projects.

This year will be no different as I’ve aggregated thirty more story ideas to send your way starting on April 1. In advance of that, I figured it would be a good time to revisit another popular GITS series [originally posted in May 2012]: How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas.

Today in Part 8: Franchises.

If there is one word that is almost assured of getting a Hollywood movie studio president of production all aglow, it is probably the word franchise. Just think how happy Alan Horn was at Warner Bros. back in the last decade knowing almost every year for a decade, he knew the studio would release a Harry Potter movie. Those dates on the calendar, stretching out for years on the horizon were locked in and locked down to be hugely profitable release dates.

Right now, you can to one of my favorite websites BoxOfficeMojo and see the release dates of movies up through 2015. Look at some of these titles on that list:

Captain America 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Transformers 4, The Smurfs 3.

Each one of those is a franchise, a title upon which a studio can develop and produce multiple movies.

So wouldn’t it be wise for us when we are kicking around story ideas to think in terms of a possible franchise?

Now you will notice something in that list of movies above: All of them are pre-branded. Based on a comic book, a remake of a movie, a children’s book, toys, cartoons.

Unless you have an extra couple of million dollars in your pockets to obtain the rights to a popular pre-branded commodity, you have to approach franchise in a different way.

In short, you have to think of a franchise concept.

Let’s look at some movie franchises that were based off original concepts [I think all of these qualify].

You got your cops: Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Dirty Harry, Rush Hour.

You got your supernatural: Ghostbusters, Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity.

You got your horror: Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Scream, Saw.

You got your family: Free Willy, The Karate Kid, Home Alone, The Santa Clause, Spy Kids.

You got your sports: The Mighty Ducks, Major League, Rocky.

You got your science fiction: Alien, Predator, Star Wars, The Matrix.

You got your action: Death Wish, Rambo, The Fast and the Furious.

You got your sex: Porky’s, American Pie.

And you got your Back to the Future which I don’t know where to put.

This is just scratching the surface of franchises that arose from original concepts.

Observant eyes will notice that at the core of each of these movies is a character or characters. Either their personality, unique capabilities, their distinctive circumstances or a combination of everything, something makes them franchise-worthy. Think of Indiana Jones, Ace Ventura, Austin Powers, Crocodile Dundee.

Is there anything in the world keeping you from conjuring up a franchise concept? A franchise character?

Because as excited as that president of production gets when they acquire a franchise property… it ain’t nothin’ compared to how crazy you will get when you see your $$ stretching out forever!

Tomorrow: Another tip on generating and developing story ideas.

For Part 1 in the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Part 7, here.

To check out the archives of the past Story Idea Each Day for a Month series, here you go! 150 ideas, yours for the picking!

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2010)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2011)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2012)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2013)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2014)

Another round starting April 1!

Twitter Rant: Jeff Willis on Should You Pay for a Script Consultant

March 24th, 2015 by

A few days ago, Jeff Willis, VP of Business Affairs and Production Administration at The Weinstein Company, took on the cottage industry which is screenplay consultants. It’s an important subject, one which Jeff handled with great insight and wisdom. Reprinted in its entirety by permission.

I have more to say than could fit into #scriptchat, so I figured it deserved its own timeslot where I can go into more detail. Here goes:

Q: Advice on finding reputable script consultants? @cr8screenwriter #scriptchat

I’m assuming this Q is about paid script consultants, so my comments are geared toward the “money in exchange for feedback” relationship.

And I’m going to preface this by saying I really don’t like the idea of paid script consultants.

You’re far better off finding friends, networked connections, and/or fellow writers you respect and asking them for a favor.

You can often get great, insightful feedback for as little as a reciprocal read. You don’t need to pay someone to ensure good feedback.

I actually think that exchanging money for feedback can potentially compromise the quality and honesty of the advice.

I don’t think every consultant does it consciously or maliciously, but running a business where your customers pay for your opinions…

… means that there’s an inherent incentive to make that feedback experience positive regardless of the merits of the work.

Full disclosure, I used to do script consulting. I stopped because I found myself in this exact position where I knew a script…

…was destined for failure, but I wanted to find something positive and helpful to say since the client was paying me to advise them.

Even though I gave them legitimate helpful advice, I regret that I wasn’t more comfortable saying, “You should probably let this script go.”

One of the most useful lessons you can learn in screenwriting is when to let a project go and focus your energy in a new direction.

Paid consultants build their livelihood around helping you continue to develop a project, and that’s not always the best course of action.

I’d rather have my work read by someone with no vested interest, who will honestly tell me if they think it’s worth fixing up or forgetting.

That said, let’s assume you’ve decided your project is an absolute winner and you’re willing to do what it takes to make it a success.

And let’s pretend for a second that you’re determined to pay for a script consultant’s feedback. What are some things to look out for?

The number one thing to keep in mind is that each consultant is only one person giving his or her personal opinion, and…

… there’s no such thing as a script expert who can provide you with objective tools or methods that will guarantee success.

Consultants should be up front about what they can provide. Which, at best, is only an individual opinion of how to proceed with a script.

If you’re looking to pay someone for script consulting, make sure you really know whose opinion you’re paying for.

There are a lot of consultants out there who are failed screenwriters and/or have never worked for a legitimate company in the industry.

It’s one thing to get consulting from a former VP of Development at WB. It’s another to get it from someone without legit industry history.

And I’m talking about real entertainment industry insight… not the cottage industry that caters to advising aspiring screenwriters.

Even if the consultant does have practical experience or excellent advice, you have to remember that it’s still only ONE PERSON.

Before you pay a consultant, put an upper limit on what you think one opinion is worth. Ignore the fancy sales pitch and ask yourself…

… how much would I pay for one person’s feedback on my work? Is this person’s one opinion worth what they’re charging?

Don’t buy into promises of access to the industry. At the end of the day, you’re just buying a set of notes from ONE PERSON.

Everyone’s maximum amount will differ, but I personally wouldn’t pay more than $100-$200 for feedback and that’s only if the “expert” had…

… legitimate, verifiable, current industry experience. I wouldn’t pay at all for someone without a resume of work in the real industry.

This is also why I quit paid consulting. To be worth my time, I needed to charge more than I think any one opinion is worth, even my own.

I researched some script consultants for this week’s tweet series. Let’s do a game like @clmazin & @johnaugust did on their “rules” podcast.

Here are three statements made by a prominent script consultant/author of screenwriting advice books in a recent interview:

Consultant Statement #1: “Even if the writing is going smoothly, you must write a minimum of five drafts to have a successful screenplay.”

Dictating a minimum number of drafts one MUST write is the kind of bogus rule that’d probably propel @clmazin’s Umbrage Meter into the red.

Consultant Statement #2: “Indie projects may not be great money, but at least you’ll get a produced project and some screenings out of it.”

FALSE. There is no guarantee an indie project will get made. While I appreciate the sentiment that beginning writers should look for…

…opportunities outside studio spec sales, this statement shows a profound lack of understanding about how difficult indies are to make.

Just b/c you’re offered a deal on an indie movie doesn’t mean that movie is guaranteed to be produced and released with your credit on it.

Consultant Statement #3: “Hollywood’s originality problem is b/c most execs are young/inexperienced & can’t recognize fresh ideas/voices.”

FALSE. Some of the smartest, most dynamic executives and reps in town are younger ones trying to make a name for themselves with new ideas.

Also, there are a ton of executives with 10+ years of experience. It’s hardly an industry full decision makers who are recent college grads.

A statement like that is someone trying to ascribe cause to an effect they’ve noticed but don’t have the practical experience to understand.

Keep in mind these three statements came from a “veteran” script consultant that charges over $1,000 for their services.

Would you pay a thousand bucks to someone who doesn’t understand modern indie filmmaking or industry rationale behind which movies are made?

Or might upsell you on paying for feedback on 4 additional drafts because “that’s the minimum number of drafts a screenwriter MUST write?”

Don’t make the mistake of paying a consultant for perceived access. No legitimate industry professional will pass along a script for money.

A true industry pro’s reputation is more important than the few hundred bucks a pop they’d make by deluging contacts with unvetted scripts.

With a script consultant, you’re never paying for access. You’re paying for feedback. Promises of access come in three flavors…

… 1) from those without any valuable connections, 2) from those who are no longer taken seriously by their valuable connections, or…

…3) from those who imply they MIGHT pass along a script IF it’s great. Which means you’re paying a premium for the barest HOPE of access.

Not every script consultant is a cheat or a charlatan. But if you want feedback on your script, why spend money if you don’t have to?

Try making some connections with other screenwriters first. Offer them feedback on their script in exchange for feedback on yours.

Even if you live in a remote cabin in Alaska, if you can read this tweet you have the ability to find an online writer’s group or community.

Trade reads and notes with other writers. You’re all in the same boat… trade feedback so you don’t have to pay for it each time.

But if you’re really determined to pay for a consultant, do your research and make sure their feedback is something you legitimately need.

And by legitimately need, I mean that they provide a unique perspective or service that you can’t find anywhere else.

PROTIP: I’ve been in this business over 10 years and have yet to find a situation where someone has legitimately NEEDED to pay for feedback.

PROTIP: Over those 10 years, I also haven’t found a measurable difference between paid feedback and unpaid feedback from writer friends.

Many of said writer friends I even met online on message boards, chat forums, and writing groups.

Look at a consultant’s resume, clients, etc. The industry-connected ones should have more than just other aspiring writers on their roster.

At the end of the day, this advice isn’t much different than the advice I give about finding legit production companies or reps…

… go into it with open eyes and a healthy amount of skepticism. Ignore the hype and promises of wild success and ask yourself…

…if this person truly has knowledge, experience, insight, etc. that will benefit you in a tangible way that you can’t get anywhere else.

I bet you can find someone whose feedback is just as good that won’t charge you for the privilege of reading your work.

That’s all I’ve got on script consultants. Tune in next week when I’ll tackle my last topic from the #scriptchat Q&A!

It’ll be about lessons I’ve learned from my career as an exec that have carried over to my writing. Courtesy of @sarahalexis4

What Jeff said. Let me add this point: You are paying a script consultant to provide feedback on precisely that: Your script. While that script is important, frankly it is not as critical as you developing as a writer. It does you little good if you end up with a serviceable script which opens a door for you into Hollywood, if you don’t have your act together as a writer. You are looking to have a career… not just sell a script. To do that:

You need to spend time reading scripts.
You need to spend time watching movies.
You need to spend time learning writing practices that enable you to work efficiently.
You need to spend time immersing yourself in the business of making movies.
You need to spend time soaking up culture (e.g, books, music, poetry, art, current events, history).
You need to spend time growing into yourself as a human being.
You need to spend time developing communication skills so you are good in a room.
You need to spend time studying how professional writers of all types go about their business.
You need to spend time writing a script… then another script… then another script.
You need to spend time generating story ideas and writing treatments.
You need to spend time growing your unique writer’s voice.
You need to spend time pulling all of this together into a process you can use over and over again to write scripts under deadline while tapping into your creativity.

In other words, it’s not just about the script. It’s about evolving into a person who can handle the ups and downs, ins and outs, and everything else that comes with being a professional writer.

And no script consultant can help you with that.

So bottom line: Buyer beware! One of the reasons I started this blog is to provide reliable information and realistic inspiration for free, precisely to counter the negative influence of many in the script consulting ‘industry’.

Do yourself a favor: Focus on that current script you’re writing. But do it in the context of the larger scheme of things: Growing as a writer on all fronts.

Many thanks to Jeff for taking on this issue!

About Jeff Willis: Jeff has spent the past decade working in studio business affairs and production management. He started his career as an assistant at Beacon Pictures (BRING IT ON, AIR FORCE ONE), then moved on to work with startup production companies Our Stories Films (WHO’S YOUR CADDY, JUMPING THE BROOM) and Troika Pictures (THE CALL). He’s been with The Weinstein Company (DJANGO UNCHAINED, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) for the past four years and currently serves as their Vice President of Business Affairs & Production Administration. Jeff is also a screenwriter; his first produced feature (THE RIGHT GIRL, written with Bob Saenz (@bobsnz)) is in post-production and due to air on Pixl TV and ABC Family in the coming months.

You may follow Jeff on Twitter: @jwillis81.

You may read all of the Screenwriting Twitter Rants here.

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 7): Think International

March 24th, 2015 by

Every April for the past five years, I have run the series A Story Idea Each Day for a Month. It’s quite popular as well it should be. All year long, I do what I’ve done for nearly three decades, scour news sources for potential script ideas. I select 30 of them and post one each day in April. The ideas are free for you to use for your own projects.

This year will be no different as I’ve aggregated thirty more story ideas to send your way starting on April 1. In advance of that, I figured it would be a good time to revisit another popular GITS series [originally posted in May 2012]: How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas.

Today in Part 7: Think International.

BRIC. Are you familiar with it? If you have been paying close attention to GITS posts, you would know that BRIC stands for: Brazil, Russia, India, China. And Hollywood is laser targeted on those countries.

This strategy is a part of Hollywood’s increased focus on the international marketplace. Over the last three decades, the share of movie revenue has flipped: It used to be 70% domestic, 30% foreign. Now it’s 30% domestic, 70% international.

Notice, too, that subtle linguistic change: From “foreign” to “international.” When the U.S. and Canada used to dominate global B.O., the fact that Hollywood used the term foreign underscores the narrow North American perspective on the film business. With international, the term is evidence of the respect Hollywood has for the burgeoning market ‘overseas.’

I posted this article [July 15, 2011] about the growth of the international market. Check out this quote:

The success of a film outside America is not purely a marketing matter. As foreign box-office sales have become more important, the people who manage international distribution have become more influential, weighing in on “green-light” decisions about which films are made. The studios are careful to seed films with actors, locations and, occasionally, languages that are well-known in target countries. Sony cites the foreign success of “The Green Hornet” (Taiwanese hero, Austrian-German villain) and “Resident Evil: Afterlife” (Japanese location) as evidence of that strategy.

Here you have the tail wagging the dog, studio distribution people weighing in with the authority about what projects go or not depending upon how they are perceived to work [or not] in the international market. And that got me thinking about Inception:

I’m not saying that when Christopher Nolan sat down to write Inception, the first thing that sprang to his mind was, “Hey, the movie business is an increasingly international phenomenon. I need to make sure to craft characters from all parts of the world to help drive foreign sales.” But he did end up with this:

Two Americans [Cobb, Arthur], another American studying in Paris [Ariadne], a businessman from Asia [Saito], an Englishman [Eames], and a chemist from the Middle East [Yusef], the latter two of whom happen to be in Mombasa in Africa. Not exactly sure where Mal is from, but if it’s South America, then you basically have all the continents covered with the exception of Australia.

So one thing you can do when you develop your stories is consider the ethnic and national backgrounds of the characters in your stories. But you can even drill down deeper with this into your story concept. In this interview with screenwriter Greg Russo, we talked about a spec script he had written called “I-95″. It was changed to “Autobahn.”

SM: Here is how the story is described in the trades:

“Autobahn is the story of a washed-up ex-Formula One driver who wakes up trapped inside a BMW on the side of the Autobahn, Germany’s famed high-speed roadway, which has no general speed limit. He answers a phone ringing in the glove box, only to be told that he has 90 minutes to deliver the bomb-rigged car to a target or his wife and daughter will be killed.”

Who decided to make that change from the U.S. to Germany and why? Was that a tricky transition for you, shifting the story setting to Germany? How much and what type of research did you do to familiarize yourself with the autobahn, Formula One racing, and so on?

GR: It was a joint decision between myself, Inferno, and our director Mark Steven Johnson. We knew the concept worked. The trick with something like this is, how do you make it play to the widest possible audience? Naturally, the way to do that is to open it up to the ever-important foreign marketplace. So, the Autobahn felt like the perfect fit. Almost too perfect. More importantly, it wasn’t a superficial change. It made sense for our story and our characters and made it stronger. It was a tricky switch of course. But if my core concept, themes, and characters are transferrable, I can make it work. All that research came in the subsequent rewrites. Oh, and I had access to a German expert too!

So when you are kicking around story ideas, think international. You might especially be aware of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Those BRIC countries are front-and-center on Hollywood’s mind nowadays. If you’re lucky, by switching a location to another country, you might also transform an otherwise tepid idea into a hot one.

Tomorrow: Another tip on generating and developing story ideas.

For Part 1 in the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

To check out the archives of the past Story Idea Each Day for a Month series, here you go! 150 ideas, yours for the picking!

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2010)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2011)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2012)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2013)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2014)

Another round starting April 1!

Character Development Keys

March 23rd, 2015 by

If there’s one question I get asked about screenwriting theory more than any other it’s what’s my deal with character archetypes? Here’s your chance to find out what that deal is with the Screenwriting Master Class course: Character Development Keys.

It’s a 1-week online class where you do pretty much everything on your own time schedule: download and read lectures, review and post comments on the public forums, upload ideas and optional writing exercises. You want to do that in bed in your pajamas sipping coffee? Be my guest!

There is one teleconference which is live, but I record and upload that, so you can even check that out on your own time, too.

As to the course itself, there are seven lectures written by yours truly:

1: Character Archetypes and Story Structure
2: Protagonist
3: Nemesis
4: Attractor
5: Mentor
6: Trickster
7: Switch Protagonist

The study script for the course: The Dark Knight, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan, story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane. If you’re a fan of this movie, that alone is probably reason enough to take this class because you will understand the film in a whole new way, through the lens of character archetypes.

In addition, you will get the opportunity to put the theories you learn into action by workshopping one of your own stories.

And as a bonus: I’ll be presenting a set of character development tools I have assembled over the years to help you dig into characters even further to uncover their unique personalities and voice.

This is a great chance to immerse yourself in what I consider to be one of the most fascinating and helpful ways of approaching character development and indeed, the story-crafting process as a whole: character archetypes.

All of that in only 1-week. The course runs begins Monday, March 31. And again, you can do the entire course in your pajamas! Sucking down caffeine! Devouring chocolate bon bons! The beauty of the online experience!

For more information, go here.

Plus there’s this: For nearly 50% off, you can gain immediate access to the entire content of all 8 Craft classes as well as automatic enrollment in each 1-week Craft course. Check out the Craft Package here.

As always, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas (Part 6): Genre-Bending

March 23rd, 2015 by

Every April for the past five years, I have run the series A Story Idea Each Day for a Month. It’s quite popular as well it should be. All year long, I do what I’ve done for nearly three decades, scour news sources for potential script ideas. I select 30 of them and post one each day in April. The ideas are free for you to use for your own projects.

This year will be no different as I’ve aggregated thirty more story ideas to send your way starting on April 1. In advance of that, I figured it would be a good time to revisit another popular GITS series [originally posted in May 2012]: How to Generate and Critique Story Ideas.

Today in Part 6: Genre-Bending.

Here are excerpts from my Core II: Concept course, Lectures 2 and 5:

Bending a story’s genre offers even more opportunities to recycle concepts as there are eight different primary genres. Here is that list:

Action
Comedy
Drama
Family
Fantasy
Horror
Science Fiction
Thriller

Let’s look at the logline of the Warner Bros. hit comedy Due Date:

High-strung father-to-be Peter Highman is forced to hitch a ride cross-country with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay in order to make it to his child’s birth on time.

Let’s go down the list of the other main genres to see what gender-bending variations we come up with:

Action: Peter is forced to hitch a ride with Ethan on a road trip in order to make it to his child’s birth on time, only to discover Ethan is wanted by the FBI, sparking a frenzied cross-country manhunt.

Drama: Filled with self-doubts about his ability to be a father, Peter discovers heretofore unknown parental instincts by tending to Ethan’s emotional needs and psychological wounds on their cross-country trip to get Peter home in time for the birth of his child.

Family: Peter is forced to hitch a ride with Ethan, a single father traveling with his infant septuplets creating hijinks and mayhem on a cross-country trek to get Peter home in time for the birth of his child.

Fantasy: Desperate to get back in time for the birth of his child, Peter’s cry for help is answered when Ethan shows up, claiming to be the Stork King, patron saint of fathers-to-be, driving Peter on a magical cross-country trip home.

Horror: Driving cross-country to get home in time for the birth of his child, Peter stops at a backwater town to get his car repaired, only to discover the mechanic Ethan is a psychopath with deep-seated father issues.

Science Fiction: Peter desperately tries to get home for the birth of his child, but he begins to believe he has been abducted by aliens who have implanted the story of his potential fatherhood in his brain – for some ulterior motive.

Thriller: Peter is forced to drive a rental car across country to get home in time for the birth of his child, but runs afoul of a hostile motorcycle driver Ethan who pursues Peter in a deadly game of chase.

Okay, not the greatest ideas in the world and doubtless you could come up with some better ones. But these variations make the point: An idea becomes a different story if you switch its genre.

Here are a few more examples of genre-bending:

Bend the comedy What About Bob (a patient injects himself into life of his therapist) into a thriller and you get the set-up to The Sixth Sense.

Bend the drama The Verdict (an underdog lawyer takes on a case in which he’s over his head) into a comedy and you get something like My Cousin Vinny.

Bend the comedy Real Genius (Teenage geniuses deal with their abilities) into a drama and you’re in The Social Network territory.

Since remaking 80’s movies is another current trend in Hollywood and we’ve already dusted off 3 Men and a Baby and 9 to 5, let’s do an exercise where we genre-bend some hit movies from three decades ago:

How about the Action-Science Fiction movie The Terminator:

A human-looking, apparently unstoppable cyborg is sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor.

What if we bend that into a Comedy: A human-looking cyborg from the future is sent to kill Sam Connor, only the frat boy teaches the robot how to party down in college.

How about the Romantic Comedy When Harry Met Sally:

Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.

What if we bend that into a Thriller: When longtime friends Harry and Sally finally have sex, she sees it as a one-time fling while he becomes a jealous stalker.

How about Drama Stand By Me:

After the death of a friend, a writer recounts a boyhood journey to find a body of a missing boy.

What if we bend that into the Horror genre: A group of youths find the body of a missing boy, inadvertently bringing it back to life – with bloody consequences.

More than a few times when working with a writer, I’ve found their initial take on a story concept was improved simply by switching its genre. So what if you are slogging your way through a story and it seems to be going nowhere? Why not step back and out of the writing process, and consider if the story wouldn’t be better served as a different genre?

Also look at the roster of your story concepts, the ones you hope to work on one day. Before committing to them, why not put each other through the genre-bending exercise. Or perhaps you’ve kicked a few concepts to the side because upon further review, you decided they stunk. What if you switch their genre? Maybe they come back to life?

Tomorrow: Another tip on generating and developing story ideas.

For Part 1 in the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

To check out the archives of the past Story Idea Each Day for a Month series, here you go! 150 ideas, yours for the picking!

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2010)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2011)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2012)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2013)
A Story Idea Each Day for a Month (2014)

Another round starting April 1!

2,500!

March 20th, 2015 by

Today marks a milestone here at Go Into The Story.

2,500.

Consecutive days, that is.

2,500 days in a row in which I’ve posted something at GITS.

Let’s celebrate by having some fun with numbers, shall we?

As of this moment, I have uploaded 16,872 blog posts.

Let’s see. 16,872 divided by 2,500. That comes out to… [uses new math]… a craploaod of posts per day!

Actually 6.7488 posts. Per day. For 2,500 consecutive days.

Now I know what you’re thinking: What the hell is this nutbag doing?

Good question! Something I ask myself from time to time, especially at three in the morning when I’ve got several blog posts waiting to be drafted.

First, there was the original inspiration: Create a site where writers could visit a few times per day to check out what is going on in the world of screenwriting. News, opinion, analysis.

Another thing I was thinking when I launched this site: Promote screenwriters and the craft of screenwriting. Hence the interviews, features, quotes, and articles which focus on writers.

Then there’s this: There are a lot of schlocky outfits out there associated with the cottage industry of screenwriting ‘gurus’. Some of the information is okay. Much of it is not. Not that I’m a genius or anything, but I have worked in the movie and TV business for nearly three decades, had movies produced, and written projects at every major movie studio and almost every broadcast network, so at least there is some legitimacy to the information presented here.

Over time, the site has evolved into much more than my original conception:

* An online resource: If you check out the Archives, you will find hundreds and hundreds of posts covering virtually every conceivable subject related to the craft.

* An online community: Between the blog and the Twitter account (@GoIntoTheStory which has over 30,000 followers), there is a lively and ongoing interchange between writers passionate about movies, TV, and writing in general.

* An online platform: Frankly I’m more well-connected in Hollywood today than I was when I lived and worked in L.A. for 15 years. So whether it’s Movies You Made or Screenwriting Twitter Rants, I’m happy to use whatever influence and reach the site has to promote worthy content.

Perhaps the most satisfying development with the site over the years is the association with the Black List, in my view the most important screenwriting brand in Hollywood. I have been honored to work with Franklin Leonard and the Black List crew, part of a concerted effort to elevate screenwriting and provide quality information and direct access to the industry for those outside the system.

One last thing: Why the whole consecutive day angle? I believe the best way to approach the craft is to write every day. That’s the subtext for blogging for 2,500 days in a row. If I can do it, so can you.

So here’s to 2,500 consecutive days. Thanks to each of you and as always…

Onward Cat final

See you tomorrow! And tomorrow… and tomorrow…