Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Column: Screenwriting – What’s Hot and What’s Not by Karen Albright Lin

You’ve written a great script, a killer log line, and a treatment that does justice to your story.  You’ve attended conferences and film festivals.  You’ve packaged the script in plain card stock and two brads.  You’ve gotten feedback from judges in contests and consultants who constantly take the pulse of the industry.  How else can you learn what Hollywood bigshots and indie directors are seeking?

Read the trades, including Variety and Hollywood Reporter, directories like Hollywood Creative Directory, and on-line news mags such as Moviebytes.

Some on-line lead services, such as InkTips, list directors seeking specific types of scripts.  The requirements can be as general as “script for 20-something female lead, any genre.  Two million budget” or as specific as “psychological horror script, no slashers, set in Tokyo with a 30-something male American lead.  Mumblecore (micro budget).”

With InkTips there are two routes to go.  You can pay for the full list of leads ($50 for four months) or take the free service, which lists a few possibilities with access codes and links to send your log line, synopsis, and bio to the director.  My collaborators and I have found response times vary greatly, but there have been several bites, “send the whole script please.”

Hollywood, like the N.Y. publishing world, likes to see more of the successful – same but different.  Familiar says the world is ready for it.  Different means it’s a new take on a tested idea.  Writing to trends is risky.  By the time you complete the script and try to get it out there what’s impressing the box office may be different.  Write the movie you’d like to go see.  Then pitch it.

Make your script sound as hot as you know it is.  Convey your unique premise as HIGH CONCEPT.  Imagine what your audience will see on the movie poster. What is its essence?  The fewer words you can use to convince someone of its mass audience appeal, the higher the concept, the hotter your story.

Consider crossing one film with another.  “Die Hard Meets Forest Gump.”  Give them a quick idea of where you’re going.  Jaws in space – Alien.  Only compare it with movies or books that sold well.  If your hook, main conflict and genre are clear and catchy, your script “has legs.”

Give it an attention-getting title, not The Shark but Jaws.  I’ve always felt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was intriguing but hard to remember.  On the other hand, could there be a better, more appropriate title than Snakes on a Plane?  It’s a high concept pitch, clear genre and conflict all rolled into one short phrase. 

Now you know a few ways of discovering what’s hot and can practice making your high concept script stand out.  Go sell!  And remember:  keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief.  Don’t step on the director.  Avoid dusk and dawn.

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at www.karenalbrightlin.com.