Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Exclusive! Black List user Matt Bolish gets signed at Resolution!

The Black List 3.0 has done it again, playing a part in yet another user securing representation from a prominent agency.

Some of you may remember my friend Matt Bolish from my earlier posts detailing the scripts he had put up on the Black List website. In February, Matt posted his script ALICE OF OZ to the site, and within a few weeks, it was evaluated by one of their readers, giving it an overall rating of 8/10, and very strong marks in other categories.

Matt enjoyed several weeks of prominent placement on the Top Uploaded Scripts list, having garnered several other user reviews that were high enough to ensure the work was spotlit. Over the next several weeks, Matt was in communication with multiple agents and managers and after considering his options, finally signed this week with Resolution.

There's no doubt that ALICE OF OZ would not have found its way to Resolution without the Black List making it available. Congrats again to Matt!

Webshow: "What Contests Do I Recommend?"

It's hard to know where to send your screenplay once you're done with it. This week's video looks at a popular option - Screenwriting Contests.

Here are the contests listed in this video:

The Austin Film Festival Screenplay Contest
Final Draft Big Break

Friday, May 24, 2013

Superman: Secret Identity, plus Geek & Sundry vlogger Amy Dallan

A few years ago I gave a rave review to a graphic novel called Superman: Secret Identity, which read in part:

Superman: Secret Identity is one of the greatest Superman stories - nay, greatest comic stories - ever told... and it doesn't even feature the real Superman.  Perhaps I should explain.

Secret Identity is a wonderful example of a writer taking a familiar property and finding a completely different spin on it.  Were Superman in the public domain like all the fairy tales that seem to be in production these days, we might even see a writer develop this brilliant concept as a screenplay, as it offers the chance to reinvent Superman in a way that might make him more accessible to a modern audience.

The graphic novel is set in the "real world," that is to say - our world.  It's a world where Superman is a fictional character, and our hero is a young man born to the Kent family - and who was tagged with the unfortunate first name of "Clark."

At the time I lamented that the trade paperback had long since been out of print.  Well, DC Comics recently rectified that. You can get it on Amazon for $17.99 or order the digital version via Comixology for less than $12.

You don't have to be a Superman fan to appreciate this story.  Hell, I'd say you don't even have to be a particularly big fan of comics to enjoy this story.  And don't just take my word for it - check out this wonderful review from Comics Alliance.

Speaking of comics, you might remember my glowing endorsement of my local comic shop, House of Secrets.  Well, one of the extremely cool employees of that establishment, Amy Dallen, is one of the eight vloggers who are part of the Geek and Sundry Channel launch that occured this week.  Perhaps you saw the article discussing this in the Hollywood Reporter?

The Geek & Sundry Vlogs Channel will focus on supporting 20 vloggers with Day and producer Jenni Powell serving as mentors. Each vlogger will receive support from Geek & Sundry and a per-video stipend.

“It’s incredibly exciting to expand Geek & Sundry as a network with our new vlogs channel that looks to present new geek voices to a wider audience,” Day said. “My hope is to create a platform and home for up-and-coming vloggers who have a chance to participate, learn and develop with us, while continuing to grow Geek & Sundry by authentically connecting with and serving our community.”

 Here's Amy's first video, an introduction to the world of comics:

Please check it out and subscribe!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Webshow: "What Fellowships Do I Recommend?"

It's hard to know where to send your screenplay once you're done with it. This week's video looks at a popular option - Fellowships.

Here are the programs discussed in the video:

Nicholl Fellowship
The Disney/ABC Television Writing Program 
The WB Television Writer’s Workshop
Nickelodeon Writing Program
NBC Writers on the Verge
CBS Writers Mentoring

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday Talkback: What franchise would you want to pull a FAST 5 on?

FAST & FURIOUS 6 is released this week, and expectations are high considering the previous two films broke records for opening weekends in the months when they were released.  Given IRON MAN 3's major opening weekend, I can't imagine FURIOUS 6 will top that, but it'll still make plenty of cash.

The funny thing is if someone told you this five or six years ago, you'd never imagine it.  The first FAST & THE FURIOUS did okay business, but a Vin Diesel movie about street racing was never going to get respect.  2 FAST 2 FURIOUS was... not remembered fondly and pulled the series so low that the next film TOKYO DRIFT, didn't feature any of the old stars in major roles.  That one played so much like a direct-to-video flick that it seemed inevitable that any future releases would be lucky to be theatrical.

And yet somehow, the series revived itself by bringing back the old cast in the fourth film and then completely reinvented itself as a heist film in the fifth movie.  It's got to be one of the all-time most impressive and unexpected comebacks for a franchise.

So my question this week is - what franchise do you think could be capable of pulling off that reinvention and how would you save it if you were given the reigns?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Film School Rejects post: "If The Internet Had Existed when Wrath of Khan Hit Theatres"

I've got a post up on Film School Rejects.  It's called "If The Internet Had Existed when Wrath of Khan Hit Theatres."

Author’s Note: While on a survey mission, Al Gore is sucked into a giant hole in the ozone that deposits him in the past. Stranded, he uses his knowledge of the future to invent the internet decades sooner than he did in his original timeline. By the 1980s, the internet has evolved to what it became by the early 21st century, dragging fan culture with it. This is one such review that I obtained from our alternate past.

Reviewed: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Is a Slap in the Face to Fans!

By: GeneGeneTheRodenberryMachine

Spock dies!

I’m sorry. I took some heat for posting that as the headline in my earlier screening report, but the fact is that it’s impossible to discuss this movie without discussing that salient point. Let’s also get to what’s really important – Nick Meyer, Harve Bennett AND Leonard Nimoy all lied throughout production when they refused to confirm the rumors of Spock’s death. It was ridiculous, as this had to be the worst kept secret in Hollywood. Everyone knew about this beforehand, so I don’t know why some of my critical brethren are kissing Paramount’s ass by pretending we all didn’t know the ending.
Read the rest over at Film School Rejects.

How STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS gives us the Kirk we deserve

It's no accident that the opening sequence of Star Trek Into Darkness involves Captain Kirk doing something he's done time and again in earlier incarnations - breaking the rules to get the job done.  What IS surprising is that this time, the event is used as a catalyst to provoke some real character work in the young captain.

William Shatner's Captain Kirk was a product of the Kennedy era, a charismatic leader who inspired those around him to greater things by taking chances that no one else would have taken.  He broke the rules in an era where that was celebrated, and displayed wisdom that salvaged calamities that might have gone horribly wrong under another leader.  Yes, Shatner's Kirk had swagger, but it was tempered by experience.

Chris Pine's Kirk is - by design - very different in some respects.  He's got the strut, but its unearned.  Where Shatner's Kirk rose through the ranks and (presumably) got knocked down enough to temper his cockiness, Pine's Kirk lacks that experience.  Instead, he was arguably rewarded for it, being accelerated straight to captain out of the Academy.  It's easy to understand the logic at work there - Kirk saved Earth from a madman who devastated an entire fleet and destroyed Vulcan.  His leadership - doing what no one else could have done - is the reason Starfleet and the human race survive.  It's not hard to imagine Starfleet heads recognizing the PR value of their new golden boy.

Into Darkness feels partly like an effort to address critics who felt that Kirk wasn't ready for the captain's chair at the end of the first film.  It's a tense thrill-ride designed to knock the ego out of the man with the devil-may-care attitude and put him on the path to being the leader he's meant to be, and viewed through that lens, it's largely effective.

The opening scene I alluded to earlier involves the Enterprise crew trying to stop an volcano from erupting and destroying all life on this planet.  Problem: the civilization there is very primitive, so the Prime Directive applies - Starfleet cannot interfere in the natural order.  Spock executes a daring plan to set off a device inside the volcano that will stop the magma, but in the process he's stranded inside.  To save him, Kirk will have to order the Enterprise to leave its hiding spot in the ocean, thus exposing the primitive inhabitants of the planet to evidence of life - or a higher power - beyond their own world.  This, of course, is a direct violation of one of Starfleet's most sacred principles.

So naturally Kirk exposes the ship and saves Spock, despite his first officer's own reminder that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."  This lands him in hot water back at Starfleet, exacerbated by the fact that he filed a false report omitting the offending details, only to be busted when Spock's report details the truth in full.  Kirk's threatened with being sent back to the Academy, but Admiral Pike steps in and manages to get that reduced to a mere reduction in rank to first officer of the Enterprise.

(I want to underline something here - Kirk is disciplined not only for exposing the ship to save Spock, but for taking on the rescue mission in the first place.  Yes, Starfleet orders dictated that even if the mission had gone undetected, Kirk was in the wrong for saving a civilization that would have otherwise died.  As out of whack as those priorities sound, it's consistent with how the Prime Directive was applied in two TNG eps, "Pen Pals" and "Homeward."  Though Kirk may have too much passion, Starfleet's rigidity has its own failings too.)

The first film might have been about Kirk getting the captain's char, but this film is about him truly earning the seat, and he starts as soon as he's busted down in rank.  One of Kirk's traits is that he's too easily governed by his passions.  He acts before he thinks.  Following a terrorist attack on a Starfleet installation in London, and emergency meeting of ranking officers is called.  Kirk is the only one to figure out - just in time to be too late - that immediately reacting this way according to procedure is exactly what their adversary is counting on.  And indeed, the meeting is attacked, with most of the officers killed, including Admiral Pike.

Though Kirk doesn't prevent the attack, it's notable that it's the first time we see him really thinking about a situation and not intuitively reacting to it.  Right after that, Admiral Marcus gives Kirk the Enterprise back and sends him after the terrorist on a mission of revenge. This is complicated by the fact they've traced the terrorist into Klingon space and tensions with everyone's favorite bumpy-foreheaded race are so high that war seems inevitable.

So to that end, Marcus has the Enterprise equipped with long-range torpedoes and gives Kirk orders to fire them from outside Klingon space. The terrorist is not to be taken alive.  Kirk's too blinded by revenge to question the unprincipled nature of these orders - or more likely, they give him an excuse to do what he wants to do any way.  Others around him aren't so swayed.  Scotty resigns in protest, and both McCoy and Spock push back so hard that Kirk embraces a more difficult plan to make an incursion into Klingon space and bring the terrorist into custody.

I like this a lot for what it does with Kirk's character.  Shatner's Kirk was more or less fully formed and the original films rarely tried to achieve any real growth in his character.  The lone exception might be his hatred of the Klingons in Star Trek VI and how he's forced to get past that.  Even there, Shatner's Kirk handles things maturely despite finding his mission repugnant.  Put Pine's Kirk in that film and he'd have openly insulted the Klingon Chancellor before the salad course was served at their dinner.

By the end of the film, Kirk has become a wiser, more mature commander.  I like the note that the film ends on, essentially bringing Kirk's characterization more in line with the TV series-era Shatner.  I feel like some of that is getting lost amid the nitpicking and arguments about canon.

I guess I can't get out of this without addressing some of the more hot-button issues in the film, so I'll touch on them in brief.  Bigger spoilers await below, so don't say you weren't warned.

The Admiral's plot - It's one of the bigger weak points for me.  We're never really given reason to understand why Admiral Marcus so badly wants a war with the Klingons.  The province that Kirk's attack is supposed to target is uninhabited, so unless the torpedoes were secretly programmed with other targets, I don't see this working as a Pearl Harbor-like first-strike to cripple the enemy.  Maybe a better solution would have been to make it appear that the Klingons were working in collusion with John Harrison, thus giving Starfleet apparent justification for a real preemptive strike.

The Klingons - Some fans argued that the marketing should have played up the Klingons.  Having seen the film, I understand why they didn't.  Their screentime is very limited and is little more than a plot device.  If they had played up the Klingons in the trailers, those same fans would be arguing that J.J. Abrams mislead everyone into thinking the Klingons were a major part of the story.  Having said that, I would have liked a little more depth to the background of the Klingon conflict.

John Harrison - I liked the Khan reveal and I like that he was used in an entirely different way here.  It makes total sense to me that Section 31 would become more aggressive following the death of Vulcan.  The fact that they tried to recruit Bashir in an episode of DS9 also suggests they see the value in genetically-enhanced operatives.  Them seeking out Khan makes sense to me under those terms.  They're arrogant enough to think they can control him, and Khan's smart enough to outmaneuver that.  It's a good use of the character without merely retreading his two previous appearances.

The in-jokes and allusions to other Trek - I liked seeing Sulu get to play Captain briefly.  Arguably that laid more groundwork for the character's eventual path to command than anything the original series did.  The scene that invoked "New Vulcan" was a nice touch too.  And hey, it was fun to see a Tribble, even if their appearance here is yet another divergence from the old timeline.  But I guess this is also the most appropriate place to discuss one of the climactic moments....

Even with spoiler warnings, I'm loathe to get too in-depth here.  I think the sequence I'm alluding to does a nice job of reinventing a moment from an earlier film and making it relevant to the journeys of all involved characters.  A more superficial viewer might call it a ripoff, but here it's put into a context that gives the scene a different meaning that allows it to stand on its own.  The emotional impact almost certainly is deepened by recognizing the callback, but I don't believe it's essential.

Basically, it's an homage done with purpose and for me, that elevates it beyond being a rip-off or in-joke.  (That said, the line spoken - or rather, shouted - at the end of the scene might be a case of pushing things too far. I'm not sure it's totally earned.)

Bottom line: I liked the film a lot and I'll be eager to see it again.  My wife is a near-total stranger to Trek and she loved the first Abrams film, so I'm hoping to coax her into being my "control group" for this one.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

An open letter to the assholes who can't stop spoiling STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

Warning to all who venture into the comments - despite this post explicitly indicating a desire for people to stop spoiling the film, internet dickbags just gotta be dickbags, I guess.  Spoilers are in the comments, so if you want to go in fresh, stay out of there.

There's been a curious trend lately.  People in the know seem to be incapable of keeping their damn mouths shut when it comes to spoilers for STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.  Normally, you'd think I'd be targeting inconsiderate moviegoers who pull a "Homer Simpson exiting Empire Strikes Back" and can't help blowing a major plot point for those mere hours behind them in viewing something.  Those people exist.  I don't watch Mad Men or Game of Thrones, but every Sunday my Twitter feed explodes with people angry at other tweeters from ruining plot points for them.

But this isn't a rant at the general public.  This one is targeted largely at the last people who should need this lecture - critics.

A not-insignificant number of critics and web journalists are basically acting like J.J. Abrams is that hot girl who dumped them and as such, they are taking every chance they can to foam at the mouth about how much he sucks.  Specifically, it feels like they resent his "mystery box" method of keeping too many spoilers from prying eyes.  One such individual with a tie to the Trek franchise went on a Twitter binge lashing out at J.J. for keeping too many secrets - and he wasn't alone.  I don't follow most of the others on twitter, but retweets kept pulling some of those conversations into my feed, and it was bizarrely fascinating to watch.

The detractors lashed out at INTO DARKNESS because J.J.'s mystery box resulted in concealing some large elements of Trek mythology that said critics felt should have been used in the marketing campaign.  Problem - in going off on angry rants about what should and should not have been put out to the audience prior to release, these individuals naturally exposed those elements.  So the joy of being surprised by the plot twists was taken away by a whining critic's need to pre-emptively bitch about a marketing campaign.

It's a little like having someone rip open your Christmas presents for you on December 23 to demonstrate that the box size and wrapping paper were offering an inaccurate picture of what awaited you under the tree.

A couple thoughts here:

* WTF difference does the marketing campaign make with regard to the quality of the film? Ten years from now, none of the conversation about the film will be about how it was marketed and all of it will be about the artistry of the project itself.

* The movie was still two weeks away from being released domestically when the bitching started up.  How the hell are we to know if the marketing was a success or a failure?  Who are we to make that call before release?  If it lays an egg opening weekend, then yes, by all means do an autopsy and tell Abrams he should have known better.

*It bears repeating - the movie was JUST released today!  Why do I even have to explain why openly tweeting plot points is fucking inconsiderate, no matter what your reasons are?  (Discussing in reviews is fair, so long as there are adequate spoiler warnings.)

* In several cases, the critics attacking J.J. are also among the people most vocally antagonistic to Abrams' first film.  Yes, big shock - the people who've spent four years bitching about how Abrams' Trek is a betrayal of everything Star Trek stands for ended up loathing every minute of the sequel.

I don't understand why it's a bad thing that some people are going to see Star Trek Into Darkness without knowing every plot twist in advance.  I also cannot get sheer glee some of these haters are getting from deliberately robbing those viewers of their spoiler virginity.  If your problem with a movie is that the trailer was too cryptic for you to know everything up to the third act, you really need to (in the words of the great William Shatner) "Get a life, will you, people?"

So what's this really about?  Why do so many web critics seem to have their knives out for this film?

I truly believe a lot of this is about web hits.  A lot of these guys work for sites that subsist on the traffic from movie spoilers.  The more J.J. withholds, the fewer stories these guys can write, and thus the less link bait they can post.  A lot of filmmakers play ball.  Usually when you see "EXCLUSIVE," you can safely translate that as "I was fed this by a studio publicist."  So costume photos, set stills, and sneak-peak clips become the currency that allows both the websites and the marketing departments to win.

But Abrams doesn't play ball.  And so it seems he must be punished for that.

Seriously, if you're going to write a negative review of Into Darkness and your focus is more on the secrets the film kept until release rather than the merits of the film as a work of entertainment itself, then you've lived far too long inside the 310-323-818 fishbowl my friends.  Take your petty resentments of the leaks Abrams plugged, the denials and the "no comments" and shove it.  Most people don't care about this inside baseball shit.  Hell, I wouldn't even care about it if it wasn't threatening to ruin my Trek experience.

If the film really sucks, then it shouldn't be a problem to write a thoughtful essay decrying it on its own merits.  My problem is that I feel like many critics are taking perverse pleasure in undermining the experience for others, making the audience collateral damage in a firefight with the film's director.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Webshow: "I wrote it, now what do I do with it? Part 5 - Asking for a read."

It's not uncommon for me to get a question along the lines of, "I wrote it, now what do I do with it?" It's a good question, and one with no easy answers. So don't think of this continuing series AS those easy answers. There are merely points to ponder. This week, let's talk about the politics of asking someone for a read.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How much can I assume my audience knows about the clasics?

The Comic Scholar asks:

I'm writing a screenplay about a theater director, and a fair amount of the story centers on her talking about Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V with a friend. How much do I need to explain about the two plays? Can I just have the characters mention the parts that are important, or do I need to have them describe the entire plot of the two plays? 

I guess my question is, when a classic work of fiction has an impact on your story in-universe, how much can you assume the audience knows and how much do they need to know? 

Never assume the audience knows anything. If there's something in that play that is essential to know for the sake of your story, you MUST set it up within the context of the play.  It's no different than any other set-up and payoff.

That said, if there are elements of the play that are completely irrelevant to your story, obviously you don't need to set those up.

I recall an episode of Deep Space Nine entitled "For the Uniform," where Captain Sisko is pursuing a former Starfleet officer who betrayed his allegiance to the Federation.  This officer - Eddington - sees himself as the hero of the story and Captain Sisko as a man driven by an unhealthy obsession and devotion to law over true justice.  To underscore the point, Eddington sends Sisko a copy of Les Miserables, noting that the Captain might recognize himself in the character Javert, the police inspector who spends 20 years pursuing Valjean for the mere crime of stealing a loaf of bread.

I had neither seen nor read Les Miserables at the time I first saw this episode, but that characterization is crucial to understanding how Eddington sees himself.  Ultimately it proves to be the key to bringing him in.  Fortunately, the writer of the episode explained enough about the characters of Valjean and Javier that it was an effective analogy even to those ignorant of the story.

As you may be aware, there's far more to the story than just that conflict - but since it's not relevant to the story's role in that DS9 ep, it went unrecapped.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Webshow: "I wrote it, now what do I do with it? Part 4 - Twitter networking."

It's not uncommon for me to get a question along the lines of, "I wrote it, now what do I do with it?" It's a good question, and one with no easy answers. So don't think of this continuing series AS those easy answers. There are merely points to ponder.

This week, let's talk the art of networking via Twitter and social media.

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Do readers read so much that it becomes impossible for anything to NOT seem like a cliche?"

In response to last week's post about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Kevin Lenihan asked:

A question I have is whether you would have liked the script if it had appeared on your desk as a spec by an unknown. I ask this sincerely and with the fullest of respect.

I check in with the blog once and a while. Plenty of interesting thoughts here.

But what I wonder is if there might be a problem with people that have read too many scripts or seen too many movies. Everything becomes so "familiar" to them that it becomes virtually impossible for a script or film to please them. Even worse, because of the human tendency to fit things into previously experienced molds, there may be the possibility of misunderstanding a story as the mind fills in the blanks with its own expectations.

Recently I watched Seven Psychopaths, and it struck me that the writer was expressing a frustration with this phenomena where critics and readers are so determined to find something that does not resemble anything they've seen before that the only things left for the writer are to create absurd plots and characters.

I once saw a script reader complain about gangsters "having guns", how that was so cliche. What should they be armed with then? Hedge clippers?

Please don't take this as criticism. On the contrary, I empathize with your situation, with your having read so many scripts, many no doubt awful. I just wonder if the result is that as soon as you encounter something which resembles something familiar, the assumption is that the story is following the same path. You might at times fill in the picture before the story has been given a chance to. 

It's a fair question but it overlooks a simple fact - we still recognize GOOD scripts that use those elements.  I don't think it's a case of film or scripts becoming impossible to please an audience, more that the standard is higher.  Consider Roger Ebert - the man often watched three movies a DAY and was still capable of being impressed by strong tentpole crowdpleasers and smaller indie films alike.

The familiar alone isn't what often inspires wrath; it's the uninspired usage of the familiar.  In the wake of Garden State, I can't tell you how many naval-gazing scripts I read about one's own quarterlife crisis, often featuring a spirtely girl who's sole purpose for existing was to pull our hero out of the doldrums.  In those cases, the author wasn't bringing anything of their own to it - there were merely repeating what had been done.  Often, they were including story beats without justifying them.

Just last month I read a thriller that committed the same sort of offenses.  It centered on a crooked cop and the gang war that was brewing as a new tough guy moved into town.  The problem was that there was no depth to any of these beats.  We were merely show the new gang wiping out the old gang, with no explanation ever given as to what each gang's agenda was.  The crooked cop had been owned by the old gang, and then switched sides to join the new one, but again, there was no internal motivation for that switch-up.

It was as if the writer had watched a lot of crime thrillers, identified certain beats that occurred in each one, and then duplicated them.  But without any motivated relationship between those beats, there was no story.  It was a collection of events, none of which seemed necessary to the others.

That script was an extreme case of getting so much wrong at once.  More often you'll end up with a script with a tepid plot and a few familiar elements that make little effort to cast familiar elements in a new light.  While there is a fair number of terrible scripts out there, the vast majority of scripts are mediocre.  Hell, there's probably an argument to be made that the vast majority of released films are mediocre. 

But you know the side effect of so much mediocrity?  The really good stuff stands out, and that's what The Perks of Being a Wallflower is - really good.  You pose the question of if I would have liked the script if it crossed my desk as the work of an unknown.  The simple truth is that Stephen Chbosky might as well be an unknown to me. I've never read his work before and I'm not familiar with him at all.

Beyond that, one isn't a script reader for long before they likely will be in the position of writing PASS on a script written by an established writer.  Is it possible that now and then Cameron Crowe might get a stronger benefit of the doubt than a new writer might?  Probably.  But then, Crowe has a track record of turning out strong films, so there's more faith in his ability to execute something that isn't coming through on the page.  But Crowe has EARNED that benefit of the doubt.

Chbosky turned in an excellent film without the benefit of a long screenwriting and directing track record.  I could see some people giving this a pass for business reasons (Emma Watson apparently was taking meetings with every studio in town, telling them to make this movie, only to be met with disinterst), but I find it unlikely that anyone would read this and question the quality of the writing.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Webshow: "I wrote it, now what do I do with it? Part 3 - Coverage services."

It's not uncommon for me to get a question along the lines of, "I wrote it, now what do I do with it?" It's a good question, and one with no easy answers. So don't think of this continuing series AS those easy answers. There are merely points to ponder. This week, I talk about what sorts of things you should look for in a reputable coverage service.