Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are remakes headed for the great movie graveyard?

Totally blindsided this afternoon to find out that I've won the Atlantis Award for Feature Screenplay at this year's Moondance Film Festival. Unlike some screenwriting festival, Moondance actually has an awards ceremony, which means I can fulfill my long-term wish to terrorise a captive audience with an acceptance speech. And get handed an actual award, that I can put on my mantlepiece/writing desk/top of the loo.


A friend I met in Austin a few years ago has kindly offered me accommodation - now all I have to do is figure out how to afford flights to Boulder, Colorado...


Another week, another remake has bombed in the U.S. This week it's time for Nikki Finke to dissect Conan (last week was the updated Fright Night). Now, the main excuse for doing remakes is surely that it's a tried and tested formula. Does this mean the wheels are coming off the remakes machine? Will they now abandon their whacked-out plans to try and re-do Dirty Dancing without Patrick Swayze?


Note to makers: I saw the DD stage show in London a few years ago with an entire theatre of crazed women. The incredibly hot guy playing Johnny could barely make it back to the stage to save Baby from the corner with all the female attention. He was a great dancer and note-perfect. Still wasn't Patrick Swayze.


Turns out Jason Momoa is no Arnie, either. And the original Fright Night was a small-time cult hit, so it's no surprise that the remake is hit or miss with audiences.


Don't get me wrong, I'm not against all remakes. True Grit worked really well. If you get an old story and do a different spin on it, you get a fresh script that doesn't sound tired or familiar. But for every True Grit, there are unnecessary re-treads like Footloose or War Games.


The one thing that will stop the big studios from churning out remakes is not critical disapproval or online whining from fans. It's empty tills. The one thing that scares Hollywood, after all, is the prospect of empty theatre seats. If they can't sell tickets, the current batch of remakes may really be past their sell-by date.

Are remakes headed for the great movie graveyard?

Totally blindsided this afternoon to find out that I've won the Atlantis Award for Feature Screenplay at this year's Moondance Film Festival. Unlike some screenwriting festival, Moondance actually has an awards ceremony, which means I can fulfill my long-term wish to terrorise a captive audience with an acceptance speech. And get handed an actual award, that I can put on my mantlepiece/writing desk/top of the loo.

A friend I met in Austin a few years ago has kindly offered me accommodation - now all I have to do is figure out how to afford flights to Boulder, Colorado...

Another week, another remake has bombed in the U.S. This week it's time for Nikki Finke to dissect Conan (last week was the updated Fright Night). Now, the main excuse for doing remakes is surely that it's a tried and tested formula. Does this mean the wheels are coming off the remakes machine? Will they now abandon their whacked-out plans to try and re-do Dirty Dancing without Patrick Swayze?

Note to makers: I saw the DD stage show in London a few years ago with an entire theatre of crazed women. The incredibly hot guy playing Johnny could barely make it back to the stage to save Baby from the corner with all the female attention. He was a great dancer and note-perfect. Still wasn't Patrick Swayze.

Turns out Jason Momoa is no Arnie, either. And the original Fright Night was a small-time cult hit, so it's no surprise that the remake is hit or miss with audiences.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against all remakes. True Grit worked really well. If you get an old story and do a different spin on it, you get a fresh script that doesn't sound tired or familiar. But for every True Grit, there are unnecessary re-treads like Footloose or War Games.

The one thing that will stop the big studios from churning out remakes is not critical disapproval or online whining from fans. It's empty tills. The one thing that scares Hollywood, after all, is the prospect of empty theatre seats. If they can't sell tickets, the current batch of remakes may really be past their sell-by date.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bring me the Funny (Girls)!

Just read a great interview in Script Magazine with screenwriter Stacey Harman. She pitched a script to Judd Apatow (!) after she went on a chaotic business trip with two female friends. Check it out - it's a good read not only about the process of writing but also about creating a story around something funny that happened to you.


Suddenly, women are funny. Bridesmaids blew it all out of the water - now the stars of that movie are all going on to great things. I just heard today that the scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy has been cast in ID Theft with Jason Bateman in what was originally a male role. But after Bateman saw Bridesmaids, he insisted she get the part.


There are a lot of funny people out there and now the ones with X chromosomes are getting the opportunities they deserve. But we should bear in mind what Geena Davis said recently on the 20th anniversary of Thelma and Louise:


The press predicted when this movie came out that: ‘Oh my God, now it’s been proven that female road movies or female buddy movies or whatever could be very successful and we’re going to see a whole stream of them,’ and nothing happened I mean, we really haven’t build any momentum since this movie came out.


It will be the same with female comedies unless enough talented writers and performers can keep the momentum going. Unless people continue to buy tickets in their droves to movies like Bridesmaids.


Unless the movie makers accept once and for all that women CAN be funny. And that funny = dollars = equals good business sense.

Bring me the Funny (Girls)!

Just read a great interview in Script Magazine with screenwriter Stacey Harman. She pitched a script to Judd Apatow (!) after she went on a chaotic business trip with two female friends. Check it out - it's a good read not only about the process of writing but also about creating a story around something funny that happened to you.

Suddenly, women are funny. Bridesmaids blew it all out of the water - now the stars of that movie are all going on to great things. I just heard today that the scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy has been cast in ID Theft with Jason Bateman in what was originally a male role. But after Bateman saw Bridesmaids, he insisted she get the part.

There are a lot of funny people out there and now the ones with X chromosomes are getting the opportunities they deserve. But we should bear in mind what Geena Davis said recently on the 20th anniversary of Thelma and Louise:

The press predicted when this movie came out that: ‘Oh my God, now it’s been proven that female road movies or female buddy movies or whatever could be very successful and we’re going to see a whole stream of them,’ and nothing happened I mean, we really haven’t build any momentum since this movie came out.

It will be the same with female comedies unless enough talented writers and performers can keep the momentum going. Unless people continue to buy tickets in their droves to movies like Bridesmaids.

Unless the movie makers accept once and for all that women CAN be funny. And that funny = dollars = equals good business sense.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Collecting concepts: using a story file

Ideas can strike at any time.


You're talking to someone, or you're watching a news item on TV, or reading a magazine article and suddenly you think, "That could be a movie!"


They can pop into your mind from anywhere. For instance, here are some of the random sources that have inspired me (for good or bad!):




  • A tear-off calendar item (from the "How to Survive..." calendar!)


  • A news article in The Metro


  • A real-life life story in the London Independent


  • A very old novel


  • A magazine interview with Britney Spears (yes!)


  • Many, many anecdotes from friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances.


  • So what do you do when a movie concept presents itself out of the blue?
The best thing to do first is write it down. Even if you're out for the night, take some time to scrawl some notes when you get home. (Even if you end up looking at them the next morning and going "Hurgggh?").


Ideally, carry a notepad and write down the gist straight away.Then look over it in the cold light of day and ask yourself why you like the idea. Write that down. This is the "gem" in the story - the thing that caught your attention in the first place.


Then you can do one of two things. If the concept is all you have, file the news article, scrawled piece of paper or whatever. I'll come to where to file it in a minute.


Or if you can, come up with an idea of how the story could run and write up an outline. For example, maybe you've got an idea for a film about a bank robbery where the bank manager's family have been kidnapped. Decide whose perspective you're going to use - perhaps the story will be told from the viewpoint of the bank manager's wife - and do some notes based on this. Write up what could happen.


It might seem pointless as this may or may not be the outline that gets used. But by creating a possible story, you've done three things. One, you've proven whether or not there's a story in there. Two, you now have an idea of whether it's a story you want to tell. You might have a great concept for a film but find that it's not a script you'd ever want to write yourself. Better to find this out now!


And thirdly, you now have a few pages to drop into your "story ideas" file. I have one of these containing various random pieces of paper, half-written notes and some fully typed-up outlines. I go through it every now and again to see if there's something I want to use.


Some of the contents will become the basis for my next script, while other ideas will just sit there, unused. I've often thought someone should set up a website for "story concepts I don't want to use but am happy to pass on to others". (Anyone? Anyone?)


In the meantime, make sure to collect your ideas before they disappear!

Collecting concepts: using a story file

Ideas can strike at any time.

You're talking to someone, or you're watching a news item on TV, or reading a magazine article and suddenly you think, "That could be a movie!"

They can pop into your mind from anywhere. For instance, here are some of the random sources that have inspired me (for good or bad!):


  • A tear-off calendar item (from the "How to Survive..." calendar!)

  • A news article in The Metro

  • A real-life life story in the London Independent

  • A very old novel

  • A magazine interview with Britney Spears (yes!)

  • Many, many anecdotes from friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances.

  • So what do you do when a movie concept presents itself out of the blue?
The best thing to do first is write it down. Even if you're out for the night, take some time to scrawl some notes when you get home. (Even if you end up looking at them the next morning and going "Hurgggh?").

Ideally, carry a notepad and write down the gist straight away.Then look over it in the cold light of day and ask yourself why you like the idea. Write that down. This is the "gem" in the story - the thing that caught your attention in the first place.

Then you can do one of two things. If the concept is all you have, file the news article, scrawled piece of paper or whatever. I'll come to where to file it in a minute.

Or if you can, come up with an idea of how the story could run and write up an outline. For example, maybe you've got an idea for a film about a bank robbery where the bank manager's family have been kidnapped. Decide whose perspective you're going to use - perhaps the story will be told from the viewpoint of the bank manager's wife - and do some notes based on this. Write up what could happen.

It might seem pointless as this may or may not be the outline that gets used. But by creating a possible story, you've done three things. One, you've proven whether or not there's a story in there. Two, you now have an idea of whether it's a story you want to tell. You might have a great concept for a film but find that it's not a script you'd ever want to write yourself. Better to find this out now!

And thirdly, you now have a few pages to drop into your "story ideas" file. I have one of these containing various random pieces of paper, half-written notes and some fully typed-up outlines. I go through it every now and again to see if there's something I want to use.

Some of the contents will become the basis for my next script, while other ideas will just sit there, unused. I've often thought someone should set up a website for "story concepts I don't want to use but am happy to pass on to others". (Anyone? Anyone?)

In the meantime, make sure to collect your ideas before they disappear!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Super 8, um, sequence!

I can't believe it's taken me this long in my baby screenwriting career to discover sequences. As in, 8 sequences = script.

I've done up scene cards before of course, and ended up like something out of Seven with Post-Its and Index cards taped to the ceiling. But it's usually a case of working out the plot and then dumping the cards.

This time, with a rewrite I'm doing, drastic action was needed. I typed up the 70 (yes, 70) scenes and divided them into 8 sequences. Just like that, my sub-Disney opus was laid bare, with an overloaded Act 2 and a fourth sequence that went on, and on and on....

It made it easy to see what needed fixing and where the story lagged. Also, writing up your scenes in detailed fashion allows you to see which ones have enough conflict, which ones don't go far enough and which are pointless. You can't hide from the truth anymore!

I've learned my lesson - will never write another script without doing up the scenes n' sequences.

Apart from the writing, my prep for the trip to LA continues. I spent some time researching visa lawyers and ended up contacting five out of a random Google search for visa lawyer, entertainment. Preferably with an Irish connection (might as well use the green mafia). The one I picked is an Irish woman who moved to the States years ago and specialises in this stuff. She got The Coronas their US visa!

The good news for me is that she thinks I may qualify for an O1 artists visa. I've been given homework which involves finding every mention of my name in relation to film on the internet, making a list of every contact I have in the industry, thinking up who might give me a reference letter etc. And that's just the starting point.

But it will all be worth it to move into a one-bed apartment in Venice Beach and launch my 1990 Honda Accord at the freeway on my way to the Paramount mailroom. Bring it on!

Super 8, um, sequence!

I can't believe it's taken me this long in my baby screenwriting career to discover sequences. As in, 8 sequences = script.

I've done up scene cards before of course, and ended up like something out of Seven with Post-Its and Index cards taped to the ceiling. But it's usually a case of working out the plot and then dumping the cards.

This time, with a rewrite I'm doing, drastic action was needed. I typed up the 70 (yes, 70) scenes and divided them into 8 sequences. Just like that, my sub-Disney opus was laid bare, with an overloaded Act 2 and a fourth sequence that went on, and on and on....

It made it easy to see what needed fixing and where the story lagged. Also, writing up your scenes in detailed fashion allows you to see which ones have enough conflict, which ones don't go far enough and which are pointless. You can't hide from the truth anymore!

I've learned my lesson - will never write another script without doing up the scenes n' sequences.

Apart from the writing, my prep for the trip to LA continues. I spent some time researching visa lawyers and ended up contacting five out of a random Google search for visa lawyer, entertainment. Preferably with an Irish connection (might as well use the green mafia). The one I picked is an Irish woman who moved to the States years ago and specialises in this stuff. She got The Coronas their US visa!

The good news for me is that she thinks I may qualify for an O1 artists visa. I've been given homework which involves finding every mention of my name in relation to film on the internet, making a list of every contact I have in the industry, thinking up who might give me a reference letter etc. And that's just the starting point.

But it will all be worth it to move into a one-bed apartment in Venice Beach and launch my 1990 Honda Accord at the freeway on my way to the Paramount mailroom. Bring it on!