Friday, June 28, 2013

UPDATED: The Lucky 7 [now 8] loglines that I have agreed to read!

UPDATED BELOW with an 8th script.

So the loglines are in and it looks like we had about 63 Black List submissions for yesterday's offer.  I said I'd select up to eight scripts out of those loglines and read at least 15 pages.  As it turns out, when I went through and picked out the loglines that seemed like the most interesting reads, I ended up with seven, so that seems like a good place to leave it.

Among the rest there were several "second tier" choices, so in the event that all seven of these have me dropping them at 15 pages, I might be inclined to check out some of the second tier ones.  Still, I picked these scripts because the concepts seemed like the ones I was mostly likely to enjoy - and also because if I were to endorse them, they would probably be the most likely sorts of concepts to garner other interest.  (That probably explains the heavy bias towards thrillers.  I'd hoped for a few more comedies or rom-coms, and while there were other good loglines, I didn't feel them demanding my attention.

So without further ado, here are the Lucky 7!

My Future Ex-Sister-In-Law 
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Logline: A new couple must hide their relationship from their respective siblings—a divorced duo who hate each other.

Mickey Stanton and the Legions of Darkness! 
Genre: Action/Comedy/Supernatural
Logline: When a commander of the underworld leads an unholy invasion to the surface, three lowly gas station attendants will battle his vile horde to stop them from wreaking havoc across the entire planet!

Cold Crossing 
Genre: Thriller
Logline: A desperate woman hatches a risky plot to escape her abusive husband, but when complications put her little girl in the crossfire, she'll sacrifice anything and anyone to save her daughter.

Where Death Follows
 Genre: Thriller
Logline: When the FBI guns down his father, the teenage son of a serial killer goes on the run from a relentless and unstable Federal Agent who will stop at nothing to see him dead.

Genre: Psychological Thriller
Logline: A wallflower college student, horrified at the discovery of a torture chamber hidden by his recently deceased father, struggles to save a young woman still trapped in it while his domineering brother wants to continue their father's work.

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Logline: The lone survivor of a massive school explosion is held against his will while the administration, police and school board appointed lawyer sift through a story of blackmail, cyber-bullying, and murder, to try to figure out exactly what happened.

Farewell, Great Leader 
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Logline: A filmmaker and his actress ex-wife are abducted by Kim Jong-Il and forced to make a Godzilla knock-off propaganda film. Their only hope of escape is to use the film's final explosive stunt to cover their tracks.

I'll try to work my way through most of these within the next week and post any reviews either early next week or right after the 4th of July holiday weekend.  I think I'll go through the other submitted loglines and maybe offer indications of why some of them didn't get chosen, so be checking the comments on the earlier post throughout the weekend as I work my way through those.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Update 7:00pm Friday - This is embarrassing. When you guys post a comment here, I get it sent to me in an email. I was using those emails to keep track of the most interesting loglines and then culled the list down from there.  Well, I goofed up and must have accidentally deleted one of those emails which included a script I was interested in.  I didn't discover this until I went through the comments to reply and realized I'd forgotten one.

(Don't worry. I've scrutinized all the loglines and there weren't any others that fell through the cracks, so this will be the only update.)

So I'm pleased to announce one more script will be joining my to-read pile:

Wicked Garden
Genre: Horror / Horror Comedy
Logline: A troubled teen inadvertently unleashes an evil garden gnome, who's hellbent on protecting his garden, and must stop it before it kills everyone he loves. In the vein of "Child's Play" and "Gremlins".

My sincerest apologies to you all for the oversight, especially to the writer.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I will read your Black List submission!

Many of you have asked about this and I have decided to give the public what they want.  Yes, I will read your fucking screenplay....

...IF you follow the rules I lay out in this blog post.

Many of you may remember back in October when I offered to read the first ten pages of any script whose writer provided a link to their Black List posting in the comments over a four-day period.  I had allowed for such a long period of submissions because I honestly thought I'd only get a few submissions and I didn't want to have only three or four applicants.

I, uh, underestimated the response. Like, by a LOT.  I had ten submissions within the first hour, which is even more remarkable when you realize I always post at midnight PST, when fewer people are likely to reply.  I ended up with 70-scripts that met the deadline, so I knew that if I ever did this again, there'd have to be changes.

The ultimate aim of this venture is to help out people who have taken the plunge on the Black List website.  A script needs two ratings in order to get onto the Top Uploaded and Top Unproduced Lists, which are some of the most valuable ways of attracting attention.  You can always take the chance that someone will discover your script and rate it, or you could pay for Black List reader reviews.  I have to imagine that getting one rating out of the blue is hard, and getting two is even harder.  Because of that, I want to help and possibly encourage other Black List members to dive into the submission pile.

I have no intention of hurting anyone's script by giving them a bad rating.  I want to find something I like, nay LOVE.  If I come across a fantastic script, it would be my honor to promote it on the blog and draw some more eyes over there.  But surely you understand that for my endorsement to mean anything, I have to be raving about the script.  I'm not going to give notes or "that was good for a first draft" platitudes.  I'm going to be saying "READ THIS SCRIPT!"

The best way to find scripts I love is going to be by thinning the herd so that I'm not spending time on concepts that "aren't for me."  Pay attention, because this is important - your logline must sell me on the script.  Yes, this time I'm not promising to read every submission.  The only submissions I will read will be those with loglines that interest me, just as if you were sending me a query.

The genres I'm most like to respond to are action, rom-com, horror, comedy, thriller and anything "high concept."

What am I less likely to be drawn to? Period pieces and torture porn.  So keep that in mind if you're considering joining the Black List just to take advantage of this opportunity.

To qualify, you must submit your comment from the time this post goes live to 11:59pm this evening.  24 hours, no exceptions and no extensions under any circumstance.

Your comment must include the following - Title, Genre, Logline and a link to your script's page on the Black List.  And remember that a logline is a sentence or a couple sentences.  Be concise, don't write me a paragraph. The link to your script's page on the Black List MUST be in the comments. Do not email me. Do not Tweet me. I will ONLY read scripts publicly pointed out here.

My aim is to select the 8 loglines that intrigue me the most and I will read at least the first 15 pages of each of those scripts.  In the event that you guys deliver a lot of awesome loglines, I'll consider going over that limit, but they're all going to have to be really good for me to consider giving that much time.   I probably will let you know if your logline was or wasn't selected, but I probably won't go into much detail why.  Don't take it personally - some ideas aren't for everyone.

I will offer no comments on any of the scripts I didn't finish reading. Don't ask me what you did wrong. Don't ask me for feedback. I doubt I'll have time to respond to everyone, and so to be fair, I will respond to no one.

I will be holding all scripts to the same standards as the material I read for my job. There's no such thing as "good for an amateur" on this scale. Scripts will be judged according to how they measure up to professional submissions.

If I really like your script I will spotlight it in a post on my blog, but know that it would probably have to rate an 8, 9 or a 10 for me to do that.  I'll do my best to write a review that sells people on the script.  It won't be full coverage, and I won't spoil any major secrets or plot twists.  If you want to get a sense of how these read, check out my reviews of MCCARTHY, DEAD CORPS and ALICE OF OZ.

So good luck, gang.  I hope to be very impressed by the submissions in the comments.

P.S. This goes without saying, but I'm not making any claim of who I will pass the script on to and I will not attach myself as a producer or anything.  No crazy promises - and no exploitation.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Webshow: Bad Newscast Exposition

In this week's video, I take on a writing trick that is rarely used all that well - using a newscast scene to fill in exposition.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Writers Guild of America West and Black List announce alliance!

From Press Release:

WGAW and Black List Form Strategic Alliance

Los Angeles – The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and script-hosting website The Black List have formed a strategic alliance with a mutual goal to advocate on behalf of writers, as well as benefit Guild members by providing them with a credible platform to help spotlight their work within the entertainment industry.

“The Writers Guild of America exists to advocate for writers, and it’s a mission we share. We couldn’t be more excited about working in cooperation in that effort, and, personally, as someone who came to Hollywood because of a deep admiration of storytellers, it’s quite a special moment,” said Black List Founder Franklin Leonard.

“Since the inception of this list, Franklin’s work has been all about celebrating writing and writers. I’m thrilled to make him an official partner of the Guild,” said screenwriter and WGAW Board of Directors member Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips).

As part of the newly formed alliance between the WGAW and the Black List, all WGAW members will be able to add their script titles, loglines, tags, and representative information, as well as monitor their work’s ratings and user traffic, free of charge. WGAW members will also receive a 20% discount on paid Black List services to host their scripts and obtain reader evaluations of their screenplays. In addition, all scripts uploaded to the BL website by WGAW members during the first 30 days of the alliance announcement will be hosted for one month free of charge. Future months’ script hosting will be charged at the 20% discount rate all WGA members are entitled to receive.

In turn, the Black List will feature WGAW-related educational and resource information on its website, including information on the WGAW’s FAP (Feature Access Project) and WAP (Writer Access Project) programs, both of which aim to provide increased employment opportunities for diverse writers by making their work available to industry professionals, as well as links to WGAW Registry, the WGAW’s official screenplay and intellectual property registration service.

In conjunction with the launch of the WGAW-Black List alliance, the Guild will host a members-only educational event on Tuesday, July 9, at its headquarters featuring Black List founder Franklin Leonard, who will present a history of the List, demo its online service, and answer questions, including how Guild members will be able to access some of its services for free and others at a discount rate.

While one of the major challenges facing many screenwriters is “getting read” – by agents, managers, producers, or industry executives – the Black List has emerged as a viable tool for writers, both aspiring and professional, to increase the visibility of their screenplays in the marketplace. Since launching last fall, the Black List’s script-hosting website has been responsible for dozens of writers – from Los Angeles to Sweden – finding representation with major agencies and management companies, as well as more than a dozen script sales.


In 2005, Black List founder Franklin Leonard surveyed almost 100 film industry development executives about their favorite scripts from that year that had not been produced as feature films. Since then, the voter pool has grown to about 500 film executives, and over 200 Black List screenplays have been made as feature films, which have collectively earned over $16B in worldwide box office and have been nominated for 148 Academy Awards, winning 25, including five of the last ten screenwriting Oscars. I

n September 2012, the Black List launched a membership site for industry professionals that functions as a real-time Black List and screenplay recommendation engine. In October 2012, Leonard extended the Black List’s mission further by allowing screenwriters from the world to upload their scripts to its database for a fee, have them evaluated by professional script readers and, subject to that evaluation and their recommendation algorithm, sent to over 1,000 film industry professionals for consideration. For more information on the Black List, please visit:

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) is a labor union representing writers of motion pictures, television, radio, and Internet programming, including news and documentaries. Founded in 1933, the Guild negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members. It is involved in a wide range of programs that advance the interests of writers, and is active in public policy and legislative matters on the local, national, and international levels. For more information on the WGAW, please visit:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Black List questions

Jerry asks:

I've got a Black List question that's been bothering me for the last weeks and I honestly don't know who to turn to for an answer. I'm so desperate, I've asked on the Done Deal forums and you know how that place is. I'm really hoping you can answer this, even if you make the question public. 

I uploaded a comedy script on the BL about a little over a month ago (3/8 to be exact) and I paid for two reviews: one came back an overall 7/10, the other a 3/10, which gave me the discounted read. I took it and the 3rd review came back an overall 9/10 with no component under a 9. I won't include the link because I'm not trying to get you to read it, I'd rather just have your opinion on the matter. The 7/10 also scored 8s on the character/dialogue and I was included in the Friday e-mail, I also was included twice for the overall 9/10 review and I ended up with 13 downloads. 

My question to you is: what is the time frame on getting a response? Should I now treat these downloads as any other read? Am I looking to wait 4-6 weeks like any other read? I also have to add that while I've received pretty good scores, I've also got an additional 4 rating from one of the industry folks and that my script has a top five standard deviation on the entire site, so I'm pretty sure it's polarizing. I am currently unrepped, but I've seen other folks who've scored high on the BL get signed within days of uploading. Am I just being impatient or should I get another read? Even if you can't answer this, thank you for at least letting me vent.

This email is several weeks old, so I doubt the advice is of much use to Jerry, but for others in this situation, read on...

I would probably suggest giving it a couple weeks after the email.  Some users might be intrigued by your logline, but a Black List script is probably going to end up being a lesser priority than, say, a CAA submission.   My gut would be to treat them like any other read.    Assume it's going to take a few weeks before you know anything.

With you having already paid for three reviews, I'm not sure what good a 4th review would do for you.  As you've noted, the ratings suggest the script is polarizing, so if your overall average is decent, is it worth the risk of drawing another low score?

And yes, it's completely possible to hear from someone within days of getting your paid review back - but I'd say those results are more likely when the script has appeared on one of the top lists. 

One thing I might suggest you try while waiting for replies is sending out queries to other potential reps.  Mention your strong review and perhaps you might get a few more people requesting your script.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Future Filmmaker Friday - Campus MovieFest's "Under Euclid's Watch"

This weekend brings Campus MovieFest back to Hollywood.  You might remember my posts about this program last year.  Campus MovieFest is an organization that travels from college to college providing participating students with Apple laptops and Panasonic HD camcorders. Each group has one week to create their own short film. At the conclusion of this, a red carpet finale is held to select the best films from each school, which then advance on to the finals at a gala event held in Hollywood.

I put out a call on Twitter for submissions from Campus MovieFest filmmakers and the team Red Tape Films from Indiana University responded with a link to their entry, "Under Euclid's Watch."  The film is a nominee in the Finals, in the Best Director catagory.

Good luck this weekend to the film's cast and crew:
Brendan Elmore - Captain, Writer, Director
Taylor Robinson - Producer, Director of Photography
Chandler Swan - Writer, Director
David Gordon-Johnson - Actor
Nichole Eberle - Actor
Jack Johnson - Actor
Troy Ehret - Actor, Production Assistant
Greg Goodin - Production Assistant
Sango Django Jeevan - Actor
Ryan Chase - Composer

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Webshow: "Don't Be Lazy"

If there's one thing I really hate seeing in scripts, it's laziness.  Today's video discusses a bit of lazy writing that I've seen turn up in too many romantic comedies over the years.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My review of "Man of Steel"

Be warned, this review drops major spoilers for "Man of Steel."

For many audiences, Man of Steel might feel like a significant departure from the Superman mythos. Indeed, a cursory glance at some of the negative reviews suggests that the shadows of Christopher Reeve and original Superman director Richard Donner loom large over any adaptation of the 75 year-old comic book. Indeed, it’s hard to think of any live-action incarnation of Superman in the last 30 years that didn’t either pay direct homage to the Reeve films or feel like they could comfortably exist alongside them. (Even though Lois & Clark went somewhat afield, there was little likely to shock casual fans.)

It’s appropriate that the film is entitled Man of Steel, as that was also the name of a 1986 comic book mini-series by John Byrne that reinvented the Superman legend to a similar degree. Though the revamp made the then-48 year-old character more accessible to modern readers (including yours truly), it also alienated some longtime fans who held a more rigid view of how the character should be depicted. Among those fans was future comic book writer Mark Waid, who teased Byrne at one convention “Okay John, when can we get the real Superman back?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Waid is not a fan of this new film. There is a certain irony in this, as much of the film feels inspired by SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT, a 2004 miniseries that afforded Waid his own opportunity to reinvent the hero’s origins. (Full disclosure: I’m not a terribly big fan of this mini, particularly the art.)

The film opens on Krypton, where we explore a great deal more about the culture and society of the planet as it reaches its final days. There’s a greater sense of scope here than in Donner’s version, even as the film hits the same bullet points (Kal-El launched away in a rocket, Zod and his followers condemned to the Phantom Zone for treason.) Unlike the delightfully evil megalomaniac played by Terrance Stamp in the original two Reeve films, Michael Shannon’s Zod is given more backstory and complexity.

On this Krypton, everyone is bred genetically, not born, and grown to fulfill a specific role in society. Zod – as we learn – was created to preserve and defend the sanctity of his race. Kal-El is an aberration because his parents conceived him naturally so that he would have the freedom to choose his own path. To Zod, this is a perversion.

After the prologue where Kal-El is rocketed away seemingly moments before Krypton explodes, we leap forward some 33 years to find Clark living the life of a drifter. Circumstance often puts him in a position to save others in peril, essentially turning him into an urban legend that reporter Lois Lane comes to investigate following a later encounter when Clark saves her life.

Much like Batman Begins, the film leaps back and forth through Clark’s life at will, filling in his childhood years even as we see his adult self step closer to his inevitable destiny. Though Kevin Costner shines as Jonathan Kent in all of these scenes, the non-linear structure isn’t quite as impactful here as it was in Nolan’s first Batman film. Many of Costner’s scenes are good enough to make this a minor issue at worst.

The film’s depiction of Jonathan Kent is likely to be one of the bigger points of dissention between those who love the film and those who hate it. Throughout all the incarnations, one constant has been that Jonathan Kent provides Clark with his moral compass. That’s essentially true here, though in this version, Jonathan is fearful for what would happen if Clark were to make his existence known. Cleverly, this isn’t couched only as a father’s protective (or selfish) desire to keep his son safe. No, in one scene Jonathan ruminates on what it would mean for the world to know for certain that they aren’t alone in the universe. He believes – rightly or wrongly – that the greater good of humanity is better served by preserving that secret, even in the face of saving lives.

And he dies for that belief.

In virtually every other version, Jonathan Kent is felled by a fatal heart attack. It’s the absolute embodiment of Superman’s limitations. As the famous line from the Donner film goes, “All those things I could do - all those powers – and I couldn’t even save him!” Man of Steel might be the only instance where Jonathan Kent’s death that was 100% preventable by Clark. The only catch is that in order for Clark to save his father, he’d have to expose his powers. It’s clear from Clark’s reactions that he’s fully prepared to do this – to damn the consequences to humanity and rescue his dad.

But that’s not what Jonathan wants. Pa Kent’s last act on Earth is to die for his convictions, to accept a fate he demanded his son leave others to, so as to not risk exposure. And Clark honors it.

In Clark’s shoes, I don’t think I’d be able to do the same. In the context of this film, it’s a heroic act and a noble death for Jonathan. I respect that this will be a sticking point for many. My own gut reaction was to reject this scene, but the more I let it sink in, the more I’m okay with it.

The action picks up in the second half of the film, as Zod and his armies come to Earth and demand Kal-El turn himself into them. This has the effect of casting Superman’s public debut quite differently from the other films. He doesn’t get the heroic coming out of saving a helicopter, a space shuttle or a 777. Instead, his presence is outed by Zod. From Earth’s point of view, they’re caught in the crossfire between one alien infiltrator and a very powerful alien armada. This means that when things go to hell for Smallville and Metropolis, one would expect the world would blame Superman for the catastrophe as much as they might credit him with save.

And make no mistake, this is pure destruction porn for the last 45 minutes or so in the film. Remember the battles in the western small town and later in Metropolis in Superman II? Man of Steel takes both of those and turns the devastation up beyond Transformers levels. It’s at once more violent and less moving than similar scenes in The Avengers, actually. As thrilling as it is to see Kryptonians kick the shit out of each other (and make no mistake, it is AWESOME to see these titans finally cut loose) the human scale is almost completely lost when buildings start tumbling left and right in Metropolis.

The main failing here is that we’ve barely spent enough time in Metropolis to have an emotional connection to it. The few minutes of screentime doled out to Perry White and the rest of the Daily Planet staff aren’t enough to compensate for this. Even though we’re watching a citywide catastrophe that’s on the order of 9/11 times 20, I felt nothing for the poor inhabitants of the city who were watching everything crumble to dust around them. For all we care, Metropolis might as well be a city of a half-dozen people.

After 9/11, we wondered when – if ever – it would be acceptable for Hollywood to depict such wanton destruction again. If The Avengers didn’t answer that, this film surely did. It’s odd – it’s treated too solemnly to be entirely escapist in nature, but there’s also little regard for the casualties of the siege. At least if they’d exploited 9/11, the audience might have felt something more. Larger issues aside, the effects are glorious and effectively raise the stakes for any future superhero battle.

The final resolution of the battle is another moment likely to be debated by comic book geeks. After a battle with Zod that lays waste to most of downtown Metropolis, Superman finally manages to get Zod in a sleeper hold. Still unwavering, Zod reaches out with his heat vision, ready to fry a group of civilians.

So Superman snaps his neck.

Comic book purists argue “Superman does NOT kill.” If one looks at the earlier films, they might be forced to conclude that we’ve long since dispensed with that rigidity.

Superman II: Superman kills Zod, stands by and watches as Non and Ursa fall to their deaths in either a bottomless pit or hypothermic Arctic waters below.

Superman III: Superman strangles his evil twin to death.

Superman IV: Superman throws the unconscious Nuclear Man into a nuclear reaction, which siphons off all his lifeforce.

And the simple truth is that a non-killing code might be all well and good in an ethics debate, but when you’re faced with an incredibly powerful madman who cannot be subdued by any means and is a persistent and violent threat, killing him IS the only answer. Zod was a rabid dog who needed to be put down. (There’s some tragedy in the fact that on some level he was bred to be that, but still, killing him was the only option.)

My mother emailed me to take exception to that scene. She felt the final battles went on for far too long and asked why Superman didn’t just snap Zod’s neck sooner? I’d argue that Superman needed to beat Zod enough so he had the physical leverage to perform that action. (It ain’t exactly easy to snap a neck.) Frankly, given that Zod’s neck should be indestructible, it’s amazing that even Superman could snap it.

Cavill is fantastic in the Clark/Superman role.  There's just something about the way he carries himself that makes you say "That IS Superman," even when only shown in silhouette.  His interpretation is different enough from Reeve's that it avoids inviting direct comparison.  That in itself is a superhuman achievement.  There's not a moment of this film where you're likely to be tempted to compare him and Reeve to each other.  Amy Adams makes a wonderful Lois and she has some great chemistry with Cavill. I bought her as a reporter, but my one issue with her might be her voice. It’s a little too soft and whispery for a reporter who we usually associate with bold, assertive tones.

I haven’t yet touched on the Codex, the MacGuffin that Zod is pursuing. It’s boils down to some sci-fi mumbo jumbo about how Superman’s DNA is coded with all the children who were to be bred on Krypton. I buy a lot in sci-fi, but I hate what some critics have termed “fun with DNA.” As much as I don’t like the mechanics of it, I approve of the drama that it leads to. Zod wants to use Superman’s blood to create a new Krypton. It could be the salvation of a long-dead society. Superman’s quandary is made perhaps too easy when Zod reveals that in order to save Krypton, it will require destroying Earth.

But it forces a clear choice from Superman and he chooses his adoptive home over his genetic one. “Krypton had it’s chance!” he tells Zod in the throes of one of their battles. Kal-El may be Kryptonian by birth, but his heart is human. In a film where the humans characters are shown (rightly, for the most part) to be paranoid and mistrustful of the outsiders, it’s a moment that’s needed.

But these issues aren’t totally wrapped up in a tidy way and I’d expect them to be covered in further depth in the sequel. If nothing else, the fallout from the Battle of Metropolis must be addressed. I’d love a smaller-scaled sequel that finds a way to address what it must be like for the survivors. Perhaps if the film features more of Clark Kent’s work as a reporter for the Daily Planet, that can be an inroad to exploring Metropolis as a city.

The earlier Superman films position the character as a savior. Though he saves the day here, the way it unfolds makes it possible the world would not welcome their “strange visitor” with open arms. It would be a very different path for any Superman film to take, but after the events of this one, possibly the most logical.

For those who didn't walk out of Man of Steel terribly thrilled with the film, take heart.  There is a vast universe of Superman adaptations, and I'm sure that you'll find something more to your liking.  Goyer and Nolan made some bold choices with this version and I'd hope that even if I didn't appreciate the film, I'd salute their moxie.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Exploring the ambiguity in "Superman Returns"

My Film School Rejects post on "Why the World Needs 'Superman Returns'" got a rather large response earlier this week.  I spent two days getting a lot of tweets, comments and emails from many Superman Returns fans who thanked me for paying tribute to a film they liked - as well as a few belligerent comments from people who... took exception to some of my points.

I also got a nice email from a guy named Jesse:

I just read your article on why the world needs "Superman Returns" and I just wanted to thank you for writing it. I hope that many people read it and that it hopefully alters their opinion even slightly away from all the hate that it receives. Everything you said is true, and I even saw some connections in there that even I had not picked up on and have made me love the film and appreciate it even more than I did before I read your article, and I did not think that was possible. I for one was devastated when they decided to reboot instead of continue Bryan Singer's story. From what I have seen so far from the trailers of Man of Steel, they don't look good at all in my opinion, and I would be interested to hear what you have to say about the film after viewing it. 

I'm actually pretty enthusiastic about it.  It looks to be rather different from both the Reeve and the Routh films but I'm open to different interpretations.  I really used to dislike all the liberties that Smallville took with the character until I learned to watch the show as kind of an alternate timeline gone wrong. So if Man of Steel turns out to not be your thing, I'd encourage you to look at it that way.

Since you clearly have a understanding of Superman Returns, I had a couple plot points that I was wondering if you could give me your opinion of . 

1. This presumably takes place after Zod invaded correct? 

Okay, I think I should state something up front - Returns is deliberately ambiguous about several issues and I don't think that's a bad thing.  I don't feel the ambiguity hurts the story at all, and it in fact leaves you with something to ponder afterwards.  The only issue I would have with this is if it was impossible to make any theory work, based on conflicting information.

Bryan Singer originally said that his film would put the first two Reeve films into a sort of "vague history."  By the time the film was released, he'd backed off from that, saying that that maybe only the first film was included in that vague history.  In truth, either interpretation is valid.  The only direct ties to the first film are:

1) The conception of Krypton and Kryptonian technology, including the Fortress.
2) Marlon Brando as Jor-El.
3) Lois's first Superman story is called "I Spent the Night With Superman."
4) Lex Luthor is obsessed with land.

Those are pretty much the only details unique to the Donner vision that carry over into Returns.

Nothing directly references anything from Superman II, so as far as I'm concerned it might not have even happened.  I lean towards the interpretation that we should only count the first film as gospel.  Either way, if you DO count Superman II, I don't think you can count The Donner Cut because at the time that Singer developed his film, the theatrical version was the only one the audience knew about.  In fact, WB didn't even start work on The Donner Cut until Returns was almost finished shooting.  It also wasn't even released until after Returns had completed its theatrical run.

There's also the fact that if you were to count the Donner Cut, the events of that film are completely erased by the ending of that movie.

I guess that's a long way of saying that I don't think Zod ever attacked the Earth in this continuity.  Though there's nothing inconsistent with him having done so and perhaps you could argue that finding the three Kryptonian criminals might have motivated Superman to head by to Krypton to see if there were other survivors somehow.

2. Lex Luthor had been to the fortress before and therefore new how to operate the crystals right? 

See previous answer for my reasoning.  I love that Luthor doesn't answer the observation, "You act like you've been here before."  The Fortress sequence works whether you assume Luthor is making a return visit, or if you think he's arriving there for the first time.  After all, the crystals aren't that difficult to figure out.  He intuits it pretty quickly in Superman II as well.

3. One thing that always bothered me was how easily Lex was able to get in the fortress and steal the crystals, did Superman have some kind of security system or something, or was he just not expecting anyone to show up? 

I suspect the latter.  In Superman II the Fortress lacks security features as well, save for one deleted scene where Superman has activated a force-field to slow down the criminals. I'd guess that the security system has to be activated from the inside, or that Superman never counted on someone finding the place.

4. My interpretation of the "goodbye lois" that superman said was that he was not only thinking that he was going to die, but that even if he did not die he was accepting Richard and her's relationship and was not going to interfere, because it is the right thing to do. I think that at the beginning of the film when he first returned to earth that he WAS trying to rekindle the romance and relationship with Lois, but then as the movie progressed, he realized that he was interfering and it was too late for them. And like you said at the end when he discovers he has a son that he will be a part of his life even if he is not with Lois in a romantic relationship anymore. 

I agree with you on all of this.  Routh invests that "Goodbye, Lois" with a lot of layers.

5. Does Richard know that he is not the father at the end? My opinion is he does not, but do you think that Lois will tell him the truth? I guess we may never know the answer but I was just curious on your opinion. 

I don't think he does, but this is a good place to bring up another popular point of contention.  People love to pick apart the timeline of Lois getting pregnant. After all, for her to be pregnant by Superman yet somehow think that Richard was the father would require the following to happen in short order:

1 - Superman and Lois have sex.
2 - Superman leaves.
3 - Lois meets Richard and becomes sexually active with him.

Some people have a hard time reconciling that.  I don't - especially if you count Superman II.  Because in that scenario Superman and Lois are intimate, but then he has to erase her memory and basically give up on any chance of a relationship with her.  Given that heartbreak, it might even be easier to rationalize him taking some time away from Earth to seek out Krypton. So then he leaves without any warning and Lois happens to fall hard for Richard around the same time.

(It's still possible for the kid to have powers even though Superman was depowered when they slept together.  The red sun rays would merely cancel out his abilities, not literally turn him into a human.  Thus, his son would still be genetically half-Kryptonian and have some of his powers.)

The only hiccup in this scenario is that when Lois sees her son display superhuman strength, she should wonder exactly how it's possible for her to have given birth to Superman's kid.  If it had been left to me to answer this, I'd probably have revealed that some time in the intervening years, Lois's memory started to come back to her.

The other possibility is that Superman II didn't happen at all and that Superman and Lois merely had an intimate relationship before she left.  I can buy that too, as it would certainly explain just how hurt and angry she is at him.  Of course, this would mean she'd have to at least suspect that Jason is Superman's son.  Perhaps the fact he was so "fragile" until his powers activated led her to assume that she was pregnant from her encounter with Richard.  I guess under this we assume that maybe the Lois/Richard pairing occurred very quickly.  But again, that's not irreconcilable.

For what it's worth, in the bonus features on the blu-ray, we see a bit of a conversation involving Kate Bosworth where the question is posed if Lois knows Jason is super. "Oh, I totally know!" Kate says, going on to say something to the effect of Lois not being the type to sleep around.  So as far as Kate's concerned, she plays it like Lois knows for sure and the only shock is that the boy turns out to have inherited his father's powers.

 A lot is left ambiguous here, but multiple interpretations are possible.  A sequel might have been forced to nail down some of this firmer, but just from the perspective of Superman Returns, I'd say interpret the evidence whichever way makes you most comfortable. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer these if you can, again I really enjoyed reading this and you mentioned that Tarantino is writing a piece as well? Do you know when that is scheduled to be finished? and where I can read it? Is it being published or just on the internet? 

Tarantino has talked about his 20-25 page review in several interviews over the years, but it's never been published and as far as I know, there are no plans for it to be published.  If it does get released, rest assured that I'll post a link to it on my site.

As this goes live, we're less than a day from the opening of Man of Steel. I'm sure some of you are as excited as I am!  Expect a review on Monday!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Webshow: Bets as Catalysts

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get your story going. And I get it, if you know all the fun and games you want to have with your premise, it can be tedious to line up the dominoes to get to that result in a plausible way. So the lazy screenwriter opts to artificially motivate some implausible behavior with that tried and true method - the bet.

In this week's video, I outline why this isn't always a wise move.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Why the World Needs Superman Returns

We're just days away from the release of Man of Steel. In fact, today is the day that the review embargo is lifted and we'll start hearing what the professional critics think of the film.  Regular readers of this blog probably are aware that I've been a massive Superman fan for as long as I can remember.

Though the ad campaign has been so aggressive that I've actively begun avoiding the newest clips and trailers released online, I was very impressed by the first few trailers.  It looks like director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer have done a great job of reinventing Superman.  I've already bought my tickets to the midnight showing and hope that my faith is rewarded.

But already I've noticed an annoying trend in many of the Man of Steel articles already released - the need for the writer to take a potshot at 2006's Superman Returns.  From the way some people talk about it, you'd think that the film was a Catwoman-sized bomb and not a movie that got rather positive reviews and did somewhat solid (if not impressive) box office.

To that end, I have written a piece celebrating Superman Returns, which you can find over at Film School Rejects.

I really enjoyed this movie the first time I saw it and the passage of seven years has done little to dampen that feeling. This is why it’s been so hard to see the narrative shift to the point where it’s assumed this movie was a horrible bomb. There are people I know who loved it in 2006 who have since taken up the anti-Superman talking points, just because it’s cool. Here’s where I blame Warner Bros a little bit. I think if they had pushed forward with a sequel and released another solid film three years later, Returns would be a lot better regarded today. Instead, they dragged their feet for a few years, the momentum dissipated and by the time Christopher Nolan was announced as producer, the internet had decided that whatever its merits, Superman Returns must be a bad movie simply because it failed to spawn a sequel. 

Go here for the rest of the article.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nate Golan's "My Synthesized Life"

Some of you might remember my remember my earlier posts on Nate Golan, which dealt with his webseries "Workshop" and his short film "Briefcase."  Well, Nate sent me the trailer for his new webseries "My Synthesized Life."  It's a comedy about a young man whose voice naturally synthesizes after he gets electrocuted by his radio during a rap song.

"Jimmy Bales, a 25 year old average office worker, narrowly survives a near car crash, gets electrocuted, and blacks out. From that moment on, whenever he gets nervous, his voice naturally synthesizes. He life is thrown into turmoil, but through the help of his outgoing roommate Steve, and Steve's younger sister Liz, Jimmy discovers the benefits of his synthesized life."

Check out the trailer below:>

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Purge: reject the premise, reject the movie

"I don't buy it."

Those are four words no writer likes to hear, and yet they are a fairly common reaction after reading a spec.  I've read plenty of scripts where one of the most significant reasons I decline to pass it on is that I simply cannot accept the conceit of the story.  This is significant because I believe most readers do enter a story with a willingness to accept much of it on its own terms.  An audience is usually willing to accept the reality with which they are presented.

What usually threatens to pop that suspension of disbelief is when the characters or the premise act counter to human nature.  This is particularly dangerous when the setting is recognizable and familiar to the audience.  They know human nature and they have a pretty good idea what a normal person would do in a situation that feels like their daily life.

But if you have a seemingly normal person in a setting that's almost normal except for one MAJOR difference - then that puts you in an "uncanny valley." The audience might perceive phoniness in the conceit and that often leads to an outright rejection of it.

And that is why I'm not likely to see the upcoming release The Purge.  Watch the trailer.

I admit it's a trifle unfair to judge a film by its marketing components.  But then again, this is the material that's designed to get me to plunk down my $14.  As I watch that trailer, all I can think is "I don't buy it."  And this is coming from someone who's a sucker for contained thrillers.

The hurdle for me is that I can't wrap my brain around a society that would say, "Hey, for one night a year, anything goes! Murder, rape, robbery... and then come sun-up, we're all cool with it."  I reject the idea that a functional society would even attempt such a thing.

And then, to put forth the notion that somehow this one night of blood lust apparently gets all of this out of everyone's systems so much that the rest of the year is a utopia?  It's hard to imagine human nature working that way.  So I don't buy that people would be on board for this, and even if I did, I don't buy that it would work.  (Interestingly, I had the exact same issue with a pilot this season that failed to get a series order - perhaps for that very reason.)

But let me point out a counter-example that I did accept.  The Hunger Games is based on the premise that once a year - 12 districts each offer up two children to compete in a battle royale to the death.  This competition is treated with all the pomp and circumstance of a Super Bowl.

On its face that seems just as absurd as the things I attacked The Purge for. So what's the difference?  The world presented in The Hunger Games does not look like our own.  The Purge seems to be set in modern suburbia (despite the note that it's about a decade in the future.)  All of society is completely upended in Hunger Games, to the point where the United States doesn't exist anymore.  The cultural and visual distinctions are enough to give the viewer the emotional distance so they're not constantly thinking "this would never happen."

If any of you DO end up seeing The Purge, let me know if the movie makes the idea more palpable than the trailer does.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Webshow: Total Outsider Screenwriting Success Stories

After my interview with F. Scott Frazier, one viewer wrote in to request that I do an interview with a writer who broke in after being a complete outsider to the industry.  Specifically, they wanted to hear from a guy who had a 9-5 job completely outside the industry and no connections within the industry.  In this video, I explain why finding people like that is incredibly rare.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Critical Mass - the mob mentality of judging and pre-judging movies

There's something that's been kicking around in my head a lot these recent months and I think that at some point in the last month, it finally hit critical mass.  Between the reactions to a lot of summer movies and the release of Arrested Development on Netflix, I'm noticing a significant shift in how we as viewers react to entertainment.

Hype has long been a factor in shaping critical reaction. I'm sure everyone can point to an instance where they were so amped up for a film or TV show that they either convinced themselves to ignore its flaws - or were let down by it so much that they swung the opposite way and declared it the worst worst that ever worsted.  (I'm sure The Phantom Menace provoked both reactions in somewhat equal measure.)

But now we seem to have gotten to the point where the hype isn't just fostering an inevitable backlash (i.e. "The new Arrested Developments suck because they're not what I wanted when I heard the show was returning!"), it's also setting up a mob mentality before people even see the film.  We've gone from reaction to over-reaction to now pre-action.  It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Trekkers enraged at J.J. Abrams spend two years bitching how its going to suck, then spend $15 for a ticket just so they can have their prejudgment validated.

I haven't seen The Hangover III, nor have I seen After Earth.  In fact I have no plans to do so because neither one of them looks like my kind of movie.  At the very least, the trailers for each did such a poor job of selling me on the concepts that I'm not going to plunk down full price for tickets.  Maybe I'll catch then via Netflix someday, but the point is that when my expectations are so low, I'm not eager to rush in and have them confirmed.

Even more notably, these days, when one reacts to a film, it has to be an extreme reaction.  I feel like there's no room for nuance in reactions anymore. You either come out of a film proclaiming it "fucking awesome" or it's "an abortion," the "worst film ever," and justification to have its makers drawn and quartered.  Maybe I'm overreacting and merely am noting those with the loudest voices, but this is certainly what it feels like.

There are a lot of movies I see where my reaction trends closer to a middle ground - not being perfect, but also not inspiring much hate either.  These movies inspire apathy more than aggressiveness.  It's something I'm aware of when I go to see a new film and walk out thinking, "I don't know if I have anything interesting to say about this on the blog. I liked/hated it, but that's about it."  It's times like that when I'm glad I don't have Roger Ebert's old job because I imagine it's a lot harder to write an intelligent review when that film comes up short on inspiring passion.

After Earth is the latest example of this phenomenon. The film was saddled with bad buzz and a lot of ill will directed at Will Smith, Jaden Smith and especially M. Night Shyamalan.  In his review, Drew McWeeny remarked on the fact that some people seemed to be gunning for this movie for reasons entirely independent of its merits.

"M. Night Shyamalan has entered the phase of his career where there is a certain amount of baggage that prevents a percentage of the audience (and the film press) from even remotely approaching a new film by him with an open mind. It's been fascinating to watch the fall from newly-annointed genius in 1999 to openly-reviled punchline in 2013... 

"I see people piling on already, and I'm baffled. Maybe it's the father-son act of Will and Jaden Smith that also has some people cracking their knuckles and sharpening their knives. Keep in mind, I'm not talking about people who have seen the film and didn't like it, but the ramp up over the last few weeks where I've seen people who have absolutely not seen the film railing on it anyway.

"I think "After Earth" is a modest pleasure, but our media landscape now demands that we either destroy a film in a review or we have to canonize it. Enjoying a film and having a complex reaction to its merits and its flaws is evidently no longer allowed."

I'll be the first to say that I don't always agree with Drew.  In fact there's a wide gulf between our reactions sometimes.   But he's not wrong, and for evidence of that, you need to go no further than the comment section where people who haven't seen the film accuse Drew of having been bought.  Because, of course bribery is the only explanation for how one could give a B- to a film from this creative team.

It's one thing to take a reviewer to task if you've seen the work and you feel that he's made a grievous error in his reasoning.  I'm sure you don't have to look too far to find a review where the writer clearly missed important details and that had an impact on their summation.  But to attack someone because their experience didn't match your prejudgement?  That seems insane.  And I think it's worth considering this the next time you walk out of a film and are formulating your own reaction to it.

I want to cycle back and bring this around to the mission statement of this blog, it's worth remembering that if these sorts of pre-judgments have with completed films, you can bet that projects at the script stage will face it to some degree.  Yes, that means it's possible that YOUR script might not get considered in the sort of hermetically-sealed vacuum that you would demand.  People who evaluate scripts are professionals and they do their best, but that can't help if - for example - you've written a poker movie and it ends up being read at a company where 5 of the support staff had to be laid off after that company's poker film tanked.

Like I said, most of the pro scripts I read fall into the "not terrible, but not fantastic" category.  For now, the ones that land at either extreme are still a minority percentage.  But if you're contributing to a culture that can only stand to eviscerate a film or want to have its babies, you might consider how that lack of nuance could eventually infect all forms of critical conversation.