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Screenwriting lessons from a Hollywood manager, part three.


  • Screenwriting lessons from a Hollywood manager, part three.

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ID:	91630Once the Coast Guard action spec had made its way into the world I began pitching ideas to my manager for the next script. I've always been a strong comedy writer - won several awards in the past - so, having just spent a couple of years working in the action/thriller genre I was eager to embark upon something more lighthearted.

    This notion, however, was quickly dispelled by my manager. As I mentioned earlier, he does not dictate what I write, but he does draw upon many years of experience in the industry when making recommendations. Since I have relatively little industry experience, I consider it prudent to pay attention.

    His observation was that I had established a "fan base" in Hollywood. A dozen production companies had scheduled face-to-face meetings with me on the strength of the last script, and one of the biggest had gone so far as to request another draft (see previous post). Those producers might not remember my name down the road but they most likely would remember my work.

    Many artists in the industry dread becoming pigeonholed. But the truth is most writers/actors/directors begin their careers by embracing what works for them and riding that wave. Once established within the industry they can then branch out into other genres, cruising on the bankability of their name.

    My manager urged me to stick with what was working. With that in mind, I pitched him 20+ script ideas that had been simmering in the back of my head. The one that sparked his interest was a science fiction action/thriller.

    At every production company meeting I attended, one of the first questions each executive asked was, "What are you working on now?" Since we had already settled on the sci-fi script, I was prepared with my pitch: three or four sentences, the idea in a nutshell. My acting experience proved invaluable for staying calm and focused during those pitch sessions, and gave me an air of self-confidence. Every executive to whom I pitched the idea asked to read the script when it was ready. My manager was pleased.

    One of the key plot points in the sci-fi script hinged on the fact that it did not seem like a sci-fi story at first. In the beginning, it was a detective story. Only through the main character's investigation into a series of bizarre murders did it eventually become clear that the perpetrator was not of this world. That was the element that particularly intrigued listeners when they heard the pitch. It also made for a compelling story to write. Ultimately, however, it became a obstacle that had to be overcome.

    One of the advantages of my manager's studio background is that he is able to think like a marketing executive. Once I had formulated an outline for the script, it became clear to him that the story had a serious problem -- not because it wasn't a good idea, but because any film made from that script would invariably turn into a marketing nightmare.

    My manager isn't a big fan of mixing genres to begin with. Personally, I love mixed genre films, but the problem with this story was that its big, second act reveal was the sci-fi twist. When it came time to market the movie, every trailer, advertisement and reviewer would give away the game. Consequently, audiences would already be miles ahead of the detective protagonist and would be waiting around for him to figure out what they already knew.

    We wound up restructuring the story so that the nature of the perpetrator was clear from the beginning. The actual motive for his crimes became the mystery that the detective had to solve. After a couple of drafts, however, my manager had grown increasingly wary of the mixed genres so we opted to move on to greener pastures.

    Part 1 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 1
    Part 2 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 2
    Part 4 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 4
    Part 5 - Screenwriting Lessons Part 5

    • Paul77
      Paul77 commented
      Editing a comment
      Just wanted to say I have read all of your articles, thanks of the info it really helps us new guys! I realized I hadn't let you know so here it is, THANKS

    • Mark
      Mark commented
      Editing a comment
      Just read 1,2,3 - Ready for more now! Thank you for the read!
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