SELLING BY TRAILER (Classic Post)

I’ve recently seen ads for a service that will make a “trailer” out of your script, or idea. This seems like a great way to show that your stuff has exciting visual potential, and specific marketing possibilities. However, are producers, agents, etc., going to watch these things? Is there a general vibe out there about this idea (which is made possible & affordable by dv, plus software like After Effects)?

Thanks very much!
Krista from Austin, TX

That’s a new one to me. I would say, save your money. You are selling you – your voice, your vision, your writing. You are not selling the trailer company. I can tell you, after reading thousands of produced and unproduced scripts, the ones that sell communicate these things on the page. If your idea or script does not communicate its own possibilities without a trailer, you need to develop it more. The producers are more likely to hire the trailer company if they like the trailer than they are to hire you.

If you are a writer/director, it is not unusual to shoot a short as a selling tool – but you are shooting it, not hiring someone else to do it. In that case, you are selling your own ability.

Even in the very rare case where there really is something special about your vision that is unlikely to communicate on the page, I would still not recommend that you hire a rent-a-trailer company. In that case, I would say, hook up with a director that understands what you are going for and shoot a short. That way, you are still promoting yourself (and the director) and not the rent-a-trailer company.

Category: The Business


TEXT VS. SUBTEXT, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH… (Classic Post)

If staring at my pages were an Olympic event, I’d win. Right now, I’m thinking about my characters – their very conception. True, for me, the focal point of the script is the story as a whole and how it explores the related questions that interest me (a/k/a the theme). Like Aaron Sorkin, Gary Ross and many others, I organize my scripts around ideas that I hope are important, a set of ideas to bind all the scenes together.

That doesn’t mean I can ignore the characters. A common note every writer receives at some point is, “Your characters need more development,” or “They don’t seem real.” The development exec doesn’t really mean what she says. It’s not her fault; she isn’t a writer. What she means is, your characters must involve the audience. If the audience (which may be the reader in the case of a spec script) is not involved in the characters – the story is not working, pure and simple.

So, aside from organizing the story to explore a set of ideas that matter (and that is no small aside), how do I get the audience involved in my characters. That’s where the text and subtext ideas come in. “Text” is the literal meaning of the words on the page. “Subtext” is what the words really mean. If they are one and the same, the audience is bored.

The central concept I use to draw life into the words – to add subtext to the text (e.g. to make the words mean something other than what they literally say) is this: Continue reading

Category: Theme


WHY WE FIGHT (Classic Post)

I had a long discussion with a fellow recently, a refugee from screenwriting. According to him, he graduated from college, worked hard for a number of years writing scripts, and networked his way deeply into the heart of Hollywood. Nevertheless, despite years of hard work, he couldn’t get arrested. Never sold anything; never got taken seriously as a writer. At the age of 37, he abandoned the effort, went to law school and became a lawyer, which is what he still does twenty years later. Now embittered, he expressed the opinion that Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Dante have already written better work than any screenwriter will ever do, so there’s no point in writing anything. He also said there are only five working screenwriters today who actually make a living. He couldn’t name any of them. It was a dark conversation with a man who is, in my opinion, a victim of his own mind. I left our meeting with a screaming headache. Unfortunately, the conversation stuck, not based on its merits, but in the same way that the image of Anthony Hopkins sticks – the one where he is eating Ray Liotta’s brain. It is unnecessarily disturbing without providing any possibility for constructive insight.

Ever since that unfortunate conversation, I’ve been feeling the need to reiterate why we write. I’m no Frank Capra, but I still have something to say.

In the thirties and forties under the studio system, writers fell into camps – socialists on one side and conservatives on the other. Despite studio wishes to the contrary, each camp worked hard to imbue their scripts with their core values. Because the resulting pictures set the archetypes, we often don’t realize what they stood for when they first came out. In its day, “Stagecoach” was highly subversive. “Sahara” was a very sneaky antiwar picture. “Casablanca” was an incredibly effective propaganda piece. Writing was an important extension of the social and political process.

Today, writers still fall into camps. Many of us just don’t realize it. Underneath each of our works lie arguments for core values. Competing values from competing writers. We don’t all agree – but we all agree that storytelling is our best means of argument. We want to make a difference.

And that, in a nutshell, is why we write.

Contrary views welcomed….

Category: Theme